Athens, Ga. – Harper Ann Moffett, an Oconee County High School junior, recently introduced third graders at Colham Ferry Elementary School to Connect to Protect, a pollinator conservation program run by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia.
In March, Moffett spoke with the students about native plants’ benefits for wildlife, including pollinators. Afterwards, she instructed them on ways to take care of the demonstration garden she planted at the school.
Weeks later, and after years of planning, CFES became one of 26 Georgia elementary schools to earn STEM certification, a status rewarded to schools invested in science, technology, engineering and math education. Only one percent of Georgia’s elementary schools are STEM certified.
Moffett discovered the Connect to Protect program while searching for community leadership opportunities. It was her father, Mincy Moffett, a botanist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who suggested she contact the garden about Connect to Protect.
“My dad has always emphasized the environment and the plants that make it up,” Harper Ann said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how essential they are to us and our communities.”
Connect to Protect, a multi-faceted program, encourages local businesses, schools and homeowners to support pollinator communities by using native species in their gardens and plant displays.
The purpose of Connect to Protect is to teach others about the importance of native plants for restoring pollinator resources and to prevent diversity loss from disrupting our natural communities.
Heather Alley, conservation horticulturist and Connect to Protect program coordinator, supplied Moffett with the plants and wooden planter for the demonstration garden. The State Botanical Garden’s education department provided her with Connect to Protect handouts and signage.
“This is a mutually beneficial project,” said Alley. “Harper Ann was able to gain leadership experience, and the garden’s conservation and education efforts were promoted to a young audience.”
The teachers at CFES agree that Moffett’s presentation brought a fresh look to their science education curriculum.
“The collaboration between the State Botanical Garden, Moffett, and Colham Ferry Elementary School was a great fit with the school’s science and math focus,” said Heidi Wolfe, a third-grade teacher at CFES. “The installation of the Connect to Protect planter and the adoption of the program figured noticeably in our recent STEM Certification.”
Moffett hopes that she can continue to promote Connect to Protect by speaking at more schools throughout Oconee County this spring and fall.
“I’m trying to get my school’s environmental club involved,” she said. “It’s a lot of work to plant each demonstration garden, and I think a larger group can really engage with the kids and show them how to take care of the plants.”
Moffett said the club intends to build new planters for those schools looking to add a Connect to Protect garden on site. By working with the University of Georgia’s Materials Reuse Program, they hope to help offset the costs and labor that may be involved with each planter.
Her appreciation for the environment and community has inspired her to consider a career where she can make the most impact.
“I’d like to do something that makes the world a better place, whether that’s through the medical or law profession,” she said. “My dream job, however, would be in international law, working with environmental sciences.”