For the birds: Abbot Elementary earns Schoolyard Habitat designation

A short video of the Abbot Elementary School assembly, celebrating the School Habitat designation from the National Wildlife Federation.

From AAPSNews Service

Take a stroll through the Abbot Elementary School courtyard and you are transported into a world of nature.

Abbot Schoolyard Habitat
Students parade through their Abbot Schoolyard Habitat, recently certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

Once an overgrown space, it has been transformed into an area of beauty that attracts birds, wildlife and has native plants and flowers.

The Abbot community’s work on the space was so effective, the National Wildlife Federation recently certified the courtyard as a Schoolyard Habitat. Abbot will be included in the NWF National Registry of Certified Habitats, which recognizes sites that protect and nurture wildlife.

“One year ago, that space was overgrown trees and weeds and garbage and cracked asphalt. It was a mess,” said Angie Ceely, fourth-grade parent who co-chaired the habitat effort with fellow parent Tamara Schirmer. “We had all of the students and all the parents and all the teachers work together to change all of that to make something really special.

“You all should be so proud of all of the projects that you do to make it a special place that we all can enjoy,” she told students during a celebratory assembly.

The Abbot Schoolyard Habitat is a place that is welcoming to wildlife, sustainable, low maintenance and useful to the entire Abbot community. It features a sound system to bring bird sounds into the school; a bird feeding system including a fresh fruit feeder, two suet feeders, a thistle feeder and three squirrel corn cob bungee cords; 650 native Michigan plants; a water pond; and two rain gardens.

Students can expect to see birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and even owls and butterflies in the habitat.

As a Schoolyard Habitat project, classrooms decorated 12 hand-made cedar birdhouses depicting various places in Ann Arbor and specially made to attract chickadees, wrens and Prothonotary warblers. At the assembly, the birdhouses were unveiled by representatives of the businesses and organizations depicted. Teachers, their class birdhouse themes and special guests included:

Amelia Barrons (multi-age class), Police Department theme. Special Guest: Officer John Elkins, Ann Arbor Police Department.
Sarah Bradley (morning Young Fives), Gingerbread House theme.
Alison Corey (afternoon Young Fives) Dairy Queen theme.
Carol DeKeyzer (morning and afternoon Kindergarten) Humane Society & Doggy Hotel themes. Special Guest: Deb Kern, Humane Society of Huron Valley.
Cynthia Heusel (fourth-grade) Blimpy Burger theme. Special Guest: Rich and Christine Magner, Owners of Blimpy Burger.
Andy Meyer (first-grade), Night Sky and Neighborhood House themes. Special Guest: Ann Neuenschwander, Director of Development for the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.
Christine North (third-grade), Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum theme. Special Guest: Mel Drumm, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.
Laura Publiski (third-grade) M-Den theme. Special Guest: Daniel Tyrell, M Den.
Dawn Snow (multi-age class), Abbot Elementary School theme. Special Guest: Morgan Solomon, head custodian at Abbot Elementary.
Annette Stojcevich (fourth-grade), Plum Market theme. Special Guest: Jennifer Bolanos, Store Assistant Team Leader of Plum Market.

Following the assembly, students, staff, parents and guests paraded through the habitat with guests visiting individual classrooms. Students then received a special packet of seeds to take home and plant to create their own outdoor habitat.

Abbot Schoolyard Habitat assembly
Abbot parent Tamara Schirmer gives out a bird house prize during a celebratory assembly for the school's Schoolyard Habitat certification by the National Wildlife Federation.

The Schoolyard Habitat Steeting Committee began working on the project about two years ago. Adding natural features, the school aimed for things that would encourage wildlife, including: water, food, shelter and places to raise their young – the four things needed to be certified as a National Wildlife Federation, according to John Stahly, a local naturalist and habitat consultant for the project.

Students have learned a lot about their habitat, including growing native Michigan plants from seed and transplanting them to the habitat, placing colored yarn in the habitat for birds to use in their nests and creating wildlife identification books based on sighting logs. Many other classroom projects were done relating to the habitat theme.

In addition to committee co-chairs Schirmer and Ceely, other members of the steering committee included first-grade teacher Andy Meyer, fifth-grade teacher Becky Waits, Principal Pam Sica; AAPS Environmental Education Specialist Dave Szczygiel; and consultant and naturalist John Stahly.

The school sends out special thanks to Pictures Plus, owned by the Godwins, an Abbot family, for donating the framing for the School Habitat certificate. Also thanked was Abbot parent Rob Norris and his family who built all of the birdhouses that students decorated.

For more information about the National Wildlife Federation Schoolyard Habitat program, visit

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