In the 4th quarter this year, Shabazz’s Project Green Teen with teachers Aaron Kaio and Lori Bennett, set off on an exploration of water issues in our local watershed.
The class started off the quarter by studying what watersheds are and made model watersheds using tin foil, spray bottles, and food coloring. The students placed the tinfoil inside plastic basins and crunched it into different shapes. The creases and bumps simulated landscapes, and when the students started spraying water on the tinfoil, it dripped along the ridges forming little streams and lakes. This enabled students to understand what exactly a watershed is and how the high points and low points are involved in setting the boundaries of a watershed. “It was a fun day. The students enjoyed working with their hands. The more interesting lesson was when they used the food coloring to simulate pollution. This allowed them to see how pollution moves through the watershed and collects in the lakes and streams,” noted Aaron Kaio.
Later in the quarter, students visited the local well, did a stormwater walk with storm water engineer Jeff Benedict, and searched the local newspapers to find and analyze articles about water issues. Throughout their explorations the teachers asked students to think about possible solutions to the issues they were reading about. “Some time after the storm water walk, we found a ditch about two miles from Shabazz where the water from the local watershed, that the school is in, goes to. It was pretty gross and helped to motivate students to want to do something about it,” said Kaio.
Eventually, students began to look at the idea of placing a rain garden on the school grounds to attempt to capture pollution and runoff before it made its way into the storm drains located near the school. Over a week, the students broke into teams to analyze different areas of the school for their topography, sun/shade, water flow, vegetation, permeability, and use. Students also used these new skills to analyze their own neighborhoods as well as those where they went on field trips as a part of other classes within the Project Green Teen cohort. “I’m starting to look at the land differently. I see possibilities for rain gardens everywhere,” said junior Charlotte Connor.
Once the class settled on a location for the Shabazz rain garden, they analyzed soil and began to choose native plants to fill up the garden and make plans on their placement. “We missed a lot of the native plant sales so I was worried about getting the plants, but Agrecol came through for us in the end. I think the day that the plants came in was the first day that the students believed that we were going to actually dig up a portion of the school grounds and put in a rain garden,” stated Kaio.
The garden was dug, mulched, and planted in the last week of school. Students pitched in by taking time from other classes to unpack the plants and pick up the mulch. On the first day of rain after putting in the garden, students checked to see how much water was being slowed to infiltrate into groundwater. “I think they were excited to see that something they made was actually working and actually solving a water issue. No water made it past our garden.”
“I think my best moment of this whole project was when a graduating senior talked to me about a week after school let out and said she was picking classes for next year at The Evergreen State College. She picked a class focused on shoreline restoration and management. She was excited to continue learning about how to solve water issues,” cheered Kaio.
Project Green Teen (PGT) is a cohort of classes at Malcolm Shabazz City High School that addresses authentic environmental needs in multiple communities with a focus on stream ecology, sustainability, and service learning. If you would like to learn more about PGT, please visit their website at https://shabazz.madison.k12.wi.us/project-green-teen.