Gov. Mifflin Elementary School's Green Roof Includes Plants, Beehives, Birdhouses and a Butterfly Hatchery

Sourced from the Reading Eagle

The words jumped out of Mark Engle's mouth as if they were fired from a machine gun.

Standing on a roof of Mifflin Park Elementary School, which is reached through a glass door at the end of a second-floor hallway, he was in his element. He was excited, eager to share each and every way students at the school had and will use the space.

Third-graders installed a fairy garden and wrote fantasy stories about it to read to kindergartners. Second-graders built a birdbath and are counting the birds that visit feeders and birdhouses, reporting their numbers to scientists at Cornell University. Fourth-graders were using a small greenhouse to see if lettuce grown hydroponically turned out better than lettuce grown in dirt.

The area is a green roof, an environmentally friendly feature created when the school was built in 2009.

When Mifflin Park first opened, the green roof consisted of a handful of trees in planters and a smattering of other plants. But it wasn't easily accessible to students or staff.

Engle said that over the school's first nine years, the green roof fell on hard times. The only key that unlocked the door to it went missing, and most of the unattended green turned to brown.

"I called it the brown roof of death," Engle joked.

Three years ago, Engle was put in charge of Mifflin Park's new innovation program. The course, which students in every grade take, is broken into three parts: engineering, robotics and environmental science.

That last topic led Engle to revive the green roof.

"I thought 'I'm in a green building with a green roof and I can't use it,'" he said.

So Engle, once he managed to get access to it, set to fixing up the green roof.

A metal fence had to be extended so kids couldn't get over or under it, and a gate was added. New plants went into the soil. Netting was used to create a butterfly hatchery and a small greenhouse was erected.

And Engle brought in two beehives, one that has clear sides so students can peer inside.

The new-and-improved green roof was officially reopened in April. It has become a full part of the curriculum this year, with students taking part in two or three lessons there, Engle said.

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