EASTON — For one week every year, Lisa Morrell and her students at Saints Peter & Paul Elementary School transform a hallway into a mini tropical rainforest. From the tiniest bugs to the canopy that covers the ceiling, the students are responsible for creating every part of the diverse biome.
Morrell, the science teacher for the sixth grade class, said she started small, but it’s grown for 21 years to be the forest model it is today.
“I started it my first year of teaching here when my youngest daughter was in sixth grade; it was in my classroom,” she said. “We thought it was a big deal when we did it, but it was nothing like this.”
Morrell guides her students throughout the process, incorporating group projects to transform the space.
“It’s grown to be this 3-D model, where I try to encourage them to make everything that they do,” she said. “It’s cooperative groups, and they’re working in those groups for their project. The canopy, the trees, the leaves, the plants, the insects, the background, the birds — they’re all different cooperative groups.”
Sixth grade student Caroline Ewing said she was part of the group who worked on creating the models of different bugs that can be found in the rainforest.
“There were a bunch of different groups, but I did bugs,” she said. “I think we created over a hundred bugs.”
Student Braden Wefelmeyer said he and fellow student Joey Mertaugh put a lot of work into the background pieces.
“We made the background; it has a waterfall and vines,” Braden said.
“We had to spray paint two different tarps and add different 3-D objects to it, like leaves and vines,” Joey said.
The students put all the individual pieces together right at the end, and Morrell said they’re always impressed by the finished product.
“They’ve been working on it since before Thanksgiving, and they really haven’t seen each other’s work until it all gets put together,” she said. “It really is impactful.”
Student Charlotte Lewis enjoyed working on the project and was surprised at how it all came together.
“My favorite part is the end result,” she said. “As a canopy group, we only saw our piece. When it all comes together, you get to see how full and authentic it is.”
After creating their rainforest, students then get the opportunity to share their newly-acquired knowledge with others.
“In the second part of the project, they act like museum docents talking to grades Pre-K3 through fifth grade about what they’ve made,” Morrell said.
Student Lana Beletsky enjoys that part of the project, especially with the younger kids.
“For the younger students, it’s really fun,” she said. “You get to help them find the different bugs and animals in the rainforest.”
Morrell coordinates the timing of the rainforest with Catholic Schools Week, which also lets the community get to see the students’ hard work.
National Catholic Schools Week is an annual event held the last week in January. Schools hold special events to celebrate with students, families, parishioners and community members throughout the week.