Students charged with planting, spreading ladybugs to plants around playground

Gabriel Torgerson has encountered a ladybug or two while climbing on the play structure at Touchstone Preschool, but Tuesday morning marked the first time he got up close and personal with the insects.

“The ladybugs were climbing all over me,” the 5-year-old says. “It was my first time.”

Gabriel, a pre-kindergarten student, joined 80 or so of his fellow students at Touchstone to celebrate the 44th annual Earth Day by scattering thousands of ladybugs on plants, flowers and trees on the school’s grounds at 16180 S.W. Regatta Lane. Some students planted flowers to beautify the school’s playground and campus, while students as well as parents brought in recyclable materials to donate.

One of nature’s more helpful creatures, ladybugs feed on aphids, otherwise known as plant lice, that are harmful to gardens, trees and shrubs.

As Gabriel says, “They get rid of insects that are bad for killing the plants.”

The private school’s annual Earth Day celebration provides a chance for students, who have been studying the biological defense system ladybugs create for the environment, to have fun while learning.

“There was not a sad face to be seen,” says Principal Alicia Lazz. “Everybody was smiling. The weather couldn’t have cooperated better for us.”

Tuesday marked the 44th annual Earth Day. Celebrated around the world, the holiday is often commemorated with the planting of trees, recycling and park cleanups.

Touchstone students have engaged in ladybug placement on Earth Day for at least the past three years, but the school’s involvement with the national ecology-awareness day goes back even further.

“I’d definitely say it’s a Touchstone philosophy,” Lazz notes. “It’s not just the classroom environment, but also the community that surrounds the school.”

Lazz ordered the ladybugs from an online supplier. When they arrive, they have to be kept in a climate-controlled environment until the children are ready to receive them. Each teacher and assistant has a bag of ladybugs they open for the bugs to crawl, or sometimes fly, onto the children’s hands for their short journey to the natural environment around the school.

“They each end up with about three to 10 ladybugs, depending on how they come out on the child’s hand,” she says. “Now the ladybugs are living on our large playground, on bushes and plants and areas for them to find food. We apply a natural bug repellent so (the ladybugs) can survive.”

Of course, some students are more eager than others to cozy up with the tiny, spotted orange-winged insects.

“Some children are very eager to get their hands covered, and some want to watch for a little bit,” Lazz notes. “There are those who don’t want to have them on their hands and others who are extremely excited and can’t wait to get them. Even the couple children who want nothing to do with them want to watch. They’re very curious about the process of it all.”

Touchstone operates three campuses on the Westside, including an elementary school in Lake Oswego and preschools and kindergartens in Beaverton and Tigard.

Gabriel, whose younger brother Isaac, stayed busy planting blueberries, cherry tomatoes and petunias on the Touchstone grounds, said he likes coming across ladybugs among other creatures when he’s exploring outside.

“I sometimes do it. I like looking,” he says. “I find a lot of roly-polys. I don’t find very many bees in the bushes.”

Beyond the ecological benefits of planting and insect placement, Lazz finds the awareness that student participation creates is good for stimulating thought and ideas about humans’ role on the planet.

“The overall idea is just recognizing Earth Day itself,” she says, “sharing awareness that we live on a planet and have a responsibility to help that planet.”

For Gabriel, Earth Day is an important time to say thanks to the planet that provides life for his family, friends and classmates.

“I think Earth Day means keeping the Earth clean and keeping the air clean,” he says.

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