AP NEWS

Project by Girl Scout in The Woodlands teaches kids the environment and nature

February 28, 2019

In the back corner of the Wendtwoods community vegetable garden near The Village of Creekside Park, tall bamboo poles reach to the sky in a circle, forming a teepee around a wooden platform. In the warmer months, the teepee “lives,” meaning that vines creep up the bamboo and cover the exterior shell of the teepee.

Ellen Crawford, who’s a junior at The Woodlands High School, is the one to thank for the new addition. She’s been a Girl Scout for more than 11 years, and this was her Gold Award project.

“It makes me feel really special that I get to help my community and give back in a way,” Crawford said.

According to the Girl Scout website, the Gold Award is the most prestigious and most difficult to earn. It’s all about tackling issues that are important to the individual scout, so Crawford chose a project that would focus on the environment.

“When I was younger, my parents always took my brother and I to national parks and state parks and really promoted being kind to the environment and teaching others about it. I knew that I wanted to do (a project) like that,” Crawford said.

In addition to teepee, there’s also a sensory walkway leading up to it. The short path has four or five different sections including rocks, gravel, sand, wood and mulch. All the materials used are natural, environmentally friendly and native to the area.

Once her project was approved and planned out, Crawford led a team of 15 volunteers to construct the entire teepee and walkway in one day. Since The Woodlands Township owns the garden, Crawford said that township employees not only gave her the permit to build her project but they also helped pay the about $400 for it as well as choose the correct materials.

“I talked to (the township’s) environmental specialist about what would be good for the garden,” Crawford said about the materials used.

And what’s good for the garden seems to be good for kids, too. Once a week, there’s a club of students from the neighboring Creekview Elementary School that visit the garden to work and play.

Lori Schining is a program coordinator with Interfaith of The Woodlands, the organization who leases part of the garden space from the township. Schining helps with the school’s garden club.

“At the beginning of the club the kids go into the teepee, and they love it. They’re always running through the walkway, and it’s definitely a sensory experience as it’s intended to be,” Schining said.

Then, she said they squish all the kids into the wooden platform inside the teepee to read them a story about gardening or food insecurity.

“They think it’s really cool to have a teepee in their garden. Once the vines take over and keep growing and filling in, they’ll enjoy it even more,” Schining said, adding the club also uses the teepee as an educational touch-point to teach the kids about different pollinators and plants.

Hearing about those experiences makes Crawford smile. She said she’s happy her project teaches kids about the environment.

“It’s important to me that little kids know that being inside and on electronics isn’t the only option. The outdoors is a great option,” Crawford said.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com