Students learn about capturing nature’s bounty

The Earth Keepers Magnet from East Rockford Middle School and their partners complete their service-learning project. Here they show off the completed garden.

Students in the Earth Keepers Magnet at East Rockford Middle School (ERMS) spent last school year on a variety of projects to learn about responsible earth keeping. As a service-learning project, the 55 students identified the need to limit the amount of storm water runoff that was entering the nearby Bostwick Lake through ERMS parking lot drains.

“We just looked for the areas that the water was running to after a rain,” stated student Emma Wilkinson.

Students plant a rain garden.

During the school year the students heard from guest speakers from West Michigan Environmental Action Council and the River City Wild Ones about how planting a rain garden would improve water quality.

With the help of Tom Laage, brother of teacher Linda Spencer, the chosen area was excavated and prepared for planting. Students removed rocks from the site and used them to create a rock drainage swale in another area and spread seven yards of hardwood mulch to prepare the site.

East Rockford Middle School students prepare an area for the rain garden.

“Mr. Mike and Ms. Amy helped us pick out the plants so we had plants that could survive. Some of them have very long roots so they can really soak up the water,” said student Meriah Gannon.

Most of the plants were purchased with a grant that teachers Spencer and Barb Altizer were awarded from GROUNDSWELL, a coalition of community partners that is focused on improving the Great Lakes Watershed through hands-on learning opportunities. The Earth Keepers partnered with the Baldwin Foundation, Amy Heilman of River City Wild Ones, Michael Bruggink of Fenview Landscape Design, and Nate Haan of Calvin College to plan, design and plant the rain garden.

Hannah Mohr plants in the garden.

“Did you know that storm water is emptied directly into our waterways?” asked sixth-grader Casey Lenon, who went on to explain, “All that stuff that is on the pavement and roof top is channeled right to our waters and is called non-point source pollution!”

On June 5, the students planted the 150+ plants and labeled them with plans to add to the garden in the future.

Student Josh Wittenbach explained, “A rain garden will filter the oils and other pollutants out of the water so they never make it to the lake.”

The students were excited to complete the garden and look forward to seeing it grow over their years in middle school. Altizer and Spencer plan to work with seventh-grade science classes next year to expand their service by planting rain gardens in Rockford, close to the Rogue River.

Madison Schilling (left) and Emma Wilkinson (right) hold their rain garden plants.

“We are making a difference and doing it close to home. Students are taking the information to their families and purchasing our rain barrels as well as putting in their own rain gardens. It is place-based education at its best and stewardship in action!” concluded Altizer.

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