Make A Little Birdhouse In Your Soul

Read on to find out more about WBHS’ latest Literary Garden news!


Lauryn Azu and Avani Samandur

Many West Bloomfield students are curious to know about the changes happening in the central courtyard. Recently, painted milk cartons have appeared on the trees.These small works of art are all thanks to the efforts of WBHS staff and students. Teachers involved include Ms. Jennifer McQuillan who teaches English Language Arts classes, and Ms. Sondra Hoffman who teaches ceramics and drawing classes at WBHS. Also, Ms. Karen Matynowski’s Advanced Placement Environmental Science students are creating an irrigation system to water the plants in the garden. The garden will be entered in the Carton 2 Garden contest, run by the National Gardening Association (NGA). This contest invites schools to create an innovative garden which features creative and sustainable uses for repurposed milk and juice cartons. If the Literary Garden is a national winner, the Garden can win up to $2,500. If the Literary Garden is a regional winner, it can win up to $1,000.

Ms. Matynowski led the massive effort to collect the cartons needed. She says that, “Collection signs were placed in several places throughout the school.  Several collection boxes were placed in the cafeteria for students to recycle their milk/juice cartons purchased from the cafeteria. Video announcements informed the students about this recycling effort and encouraged the students to recycle their cartons at lunchtime. A collection box was placed in the front office so that parents and members of the community could drop off their recycled cartons at the school.  Email blasts to the parents and community informed them of our recycling efforts. In addition, students from all participating classes brought in recycled cartons from home.”

The cartons were kept in Matynowksi and McQuillan’s rooms, and split between the APES classes, Honors American Literature classes, and 3-D Art foundations classes. Matynowski says that “the cartons ranged from ½ gallon to ½ pint in size.The Honors American Literature students used 144 of the ½ gallon cartons for the inspirational birdhouses; the Advanced Placement Environmental Science class used 65 cartons of all 3 sizes for the irrigation systems; and the 3-D Art Foundations students used 31 cartons of all 3 sizes for the decorative flowers.” In addition to the cartons, the students used paint, sealing glaze, re-purposed magazine words/pictures, recycled wood pallets and wood scraps, recycled garden hose, glue, sandpaper, tape, and twine.

The garden also contributed greatly to the education of students as Matynowski says that, “The Carton 2 Garden project is a perfect STEAM project. We combined academic content from 3 disciplines in this project – Science, Engineering, and Arts. The AP Environmental Science students learned about Reduce/Reuse/Recycle practices and sustainability.  They also used engineering processes to design and build irrigation systems for the literary garden plants from recycled cartons and materials. The Arts were incorporated in our project in the inspirational words and pictures on the birdhouses and flowers created by our Art students.”

Because getting funding for the Literary Garden is so hard, McQuillan thinks that entering this contest is a great idea. McQuillan says that, “Our West Bloomfield community has been very generous, but I’m constantly looking for new ways to fund all of my ideas to implement the garden into our school curriculum!” She loves the creativity and imagination of the students, and working alongside other colleagues in various disciplines to make the garden work.

McQuillan remarks that she wants “the birdhouses to provide a safe home for the birds in our courtyard, of course, but even more than that, I want the birdhouses to represent a physical ‘birdhouse in your soul’ where ‘hope is the thing with feathers’ can nest.’  . . . Simply put, I want students to find hope and inspiration when they come out into the courtyard. I want the garden to be not only a place where students can connect with literature, but where they can connect with themselves.”

McQuillan says that the birdhouses will help WBHS because she believes that, “We are all so alienated and isolated in our little boxy classrooms, hiding behind our technology. The courtyard provides a space where we can come together under the open sky in the middle of the building in the fresh air and sunshine and BREATHE. BE. Talk. Laugh. Listen. Eat. Share. Comfort. Play. Relax. We are all so busy and so stressed out. We need this, urgently”


If you are interested in checking the status of the upcoming Literary garden, check out McQuillan’s blog at to look out for updates!