The Bigger Picture

The bigger picture: Understanding how our summer project helps save our planet

Due to the innovative mind of Biology teacher Kevin O’Toole, the Morton East Freshmen Center has 11,500 fewer feet of grass and 11,500 more feet of native plants. The Monarch Butterfly Gardens, designed by high school students in Cicero, made their mark in nature in 2018 and will continue to do so this summer. The North and West gardens have been habitats for the endangered monarch butterfly species and have increased the amount of biodiversity in our community for various years. Now, thanks to O’Toole’s never-ending need to bring awareness to climate change, we will have 17,000 square feet of native plants that encompass the fields of the Morton East Freshmen Center with the construction of yet another garden.

The West Garden was the first of the 3 gardens to be created. Students use the gardens for hands on learning in their biology classes.
The North Garden was the second garden created and has an exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum, has been recognized by the United Nations, and even been photographed by National Geographic.

how do gardens help the environment?

What is the big deal about a couple gardens? Comments like “Well I have a garden in my backyard and I don’t think it’s that revolutionary” may even arise. But the gardens at the Morton Freshmen Center are praised the way they are because they even exist: To create a habitat for the monarch butterfly species, increase biodiversity in a community, and help battle climate change. In this summer’s project of creating a new garden, the focus is to plant thousands of plants native to Illinois, including milkweed (where monarchs lay their eggs), to increase the number of monarchs. These two things are essential because the habitats we create through the gardens aid in taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which decreases the adverse effects of global warming. 

Targeting the youth

As the first intern EFTA has hired that is straight out of high school, I realize it is essential to target and include the youth in certain areas. The same way EFTA took a chance on 3 kids who just graduated high school is how Kevin O’Toole takes a chance on his students. He could have hired people to do the manual labor and put plants into the ground, but he didn’t. Instead, he allowed Morton East students to get involved in their community and participate in inciting change. If we don’t spark change now, it will not be the adults that have to live on an uninhabitable planet due to climate change. Instead, it will be the children who have to live through the mistakes of our predecessors. That’s why it is crucial to include adolescents in this project. Introducing kids to “adult topics” early on makes them care. Informing kids that our world is under attack makes them motivated. By having students be a part of the development of the new garden, they feel as if they have made positive changes to our planet. We hope this motivates youth to protect the world they will inherit someday. 

This summer, there are 75 kids who show up every day to maintain the existing gardens and to help develop the new one.
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