Gus Bus and NPS partner to bring pollinator gardens to schools

College of Health and Behavioral Studies

by Morgan Vuknic


The Gus Bus, a program through JMU's Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services (IIHHS), focuses on bringing academic enrichment to local children through mobile classroom vehicles. With these vehicles, the Gus Bus creates a low stakes environment, using books and interactive,ungraded activities to bring literacy, creativity and math skills to local elementary schools.

“Supporting a child starts with literacy, but it doesn’t end there,” said Janelle Erb, Gus Bus Curriculum and Program Manager. To continue its goal of inspiring joy in learning, the Gus Bus has been partnering with the National Park Service (NPS) since fall 2022.   

This partnership was made possible through the NPS’s grant from the National Environment and Education Foundation. The NPS received this grant to implement a year-long citizen science project with businesses that are funded by 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). Since Gus Bus is funded by 21st CCLC, the NPS reached out to the program to partner with them.  

Through this partnership, the NPS has been bringing park rangers to Spotswood and Stone Spring elementary schools to guest teach every other week. The theme NPS and the Gus Bus decided on is pollinators. The park rangers have been educating the kids on what pollinators are, what they do, how they help to produce food and the overall importance of attracting pollinators to the community.   

One park ranger who is involved with guest teaching at the elementary schools is Margo Roseum. Along with teaching on this theme, Roseum has been helping the students create a blueprint for a pollinator garden. Spotswood Elementary School has begun to build their garden, but Stone Spring had to adjust their plans as they don’t have the space for a garden at the moment.  

Gus Bus - NPS Garden

Instead of a garden, the students at Stone Spring Elementary School will be taking what they have learned about pollinators, healthy soil and decomposition, and planting potted plants around the school.  

Roseum said both projects have allowed the students to understand the ecosystem that’s close to them. With the Shenandoah National Park being close to both elementary schools, she said the lessons the kids are taught and the projects that they’re doing are giving them a physical connection to the landscape around them.  

“I’m hoping [the kids] get a sense of pride for their school,” Roseum said. “I want them to feel connected to the national park and to the nature that’s in their own backyard. We have a lot of the same plant and pollinator species in the forest and the valley. I really want them to understand the physical connection to the park., but also, the feeling of pride that comes with conservation efforts within their own community.”  

For the project at Spotswood, the NPS and Gus Bus are receiving help from local businesses in the community. Great Outdoors Landscaping assisted with edging the garden beds and Radical Roots Farms will be donating the plants, which will be planted in May. Erb said the kids have enjoyed being able to learn about pollinators and have the hands-on experience  of planting a garden. 

“It’s been a really cool experience for the kids,” Erb said. “They’re getting their hands dirty, getting to see firsthand how plants grow and what they need and learning about many different pollinators.”  

While the Gus Bus mainly focuses on teaching kids reading and writing skills, Erb said this project is all about connection. Since schools have been either fully remote or hybrid over parts  of the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Erb said this is many of the kid’s first time doing a project like this.  

“It’s great for students to have that academic connection,” Erb said. “A lot of students were isolated for a while so I think it’s good for them to see that there’s a bigger community out there and that we can all come together and work on projects like this.”   

For Roseum, connection with their peers is important, but so is connection with the land. She said one goal she’s had during her time with the kids at Spotswood and Stone Spring is to show them how the projects they’re doing at their own schools have an impact on the local ecosystem as a whole.   

“It’s our mission at the NPS to preserve and protect,” Roseum said. “But we also have a focus on recreation and enjoyment. So, combining those things is easily done when helping students understand how to protect the ecosystem in their own backyard. It’s giving them an opportunity to understand things like where are these places to find compost in my area? Or how can I participate as a good steward within my community?”  

Although this is a one-year partnership, Erb said the kids in the program have learned a lot about pollinators. Her hope for this project is that when kids go home or when they leave the Gus Bus program, they will take what they’ve learned and share it with others.   

“Through these projects, our hope is that, in the future, some of these students will want to attract pollinators to their backyards,” Erb said. “I’ve seen them take the knowledge they’re learning and share it with others and to take it home to their families and communities.”    

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Published: Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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