Friday, April 12, 2013

District Schools Rev Up for Action

By Tracy Leavenworth
District consultant Tracy Leavenworth uses a sand filter model to show L’Et oile du Nord students how phosphorus binds to iron filings to prevent it from getting into lakes and streams.
Ask a 4th or 5th grader at L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion School about phosphorus and how it affects our watershed, and you will likely need to pull up a chair. They have a lot to share! And as the weather warms, along with dozens of other students across the district, they will be going above and beyond learning about watershed issues to taking action! In preparation they’ve explored their school’s rain garden, hillside erosion project and the woodlands behind their building and had fun learning about the stormwater features recently installed at Maplewood Mall. They’ve also performed hands-on tasks that solidified their learning about run-off, phosphorus content in soil, and how sand filters work like the ones at the Maplewood Mall and near Kohl’s. 

Left: Justine Koch, graduate student from the University of Minnesota demonstrates the use of radio tracking during the carp seining at Lake Gervais. Right: District Senior Water Quality Technician, Eric Korte explains the process of collecting data about water quality at Gervais Lake using monitoring equipment.

Sixth graders in Anna Dundek’s room and fourth graders in Karen Mueller’s class at Farnsworth K-4 also have a lot to say about the detrimental effects of phosphorus, especially in the hands of carp. They set out to watch the drama of the carp seining at Lake Gervais in late February before the spring rains cut ice fishing off for the season. Despite all of our best intentions, the carp outsmarted everyone including these students who had to leave before they got to witness the 850 carp being reeled in with a sein nets (the other half of the catch escaped due to the nets getting snagged and damaged from rocks under the water’s surface). Even though they missed the most dramatic part of the process, a good time was had by all as students watched the commercial fishermen prepare for the "arrival" of the carp. They also learned about water quality monitoring equipment, performed various water quality tests on lake samples and heard Justine Koch, graduate student working in Dr. Peter Sorensen’s lab describe the role of radio tracking in the University of Minnesota’s research project in the Phalen Chain of Lakes.
Fouth graders at L'Etoile du Nord French Immersion School stratify seeds in vermiculite, preparing them for germination.

A hands-on task that has become an annual ritual for the District’s work in the schools is growing native plants from seed collected at many of the schools’ demonstration gardens. Over the years, thousands of native plants have found their way into school yard gardens, neighborhood rain gardens, shorelines and wetlands that were germinated under grow lights in the classrooms. The district is teaming up again this year with Ramsey County Master Gardeners and classrooms throughout the district to grow an array of native plants for springtime planting. 

Left: Farnsworth 4th graders plant seeds as Ramsey County Master Gardener Megan Finney shows them a picture of the native wildflower the seeds will become. Right: Future home for seedlings grown by Mounds Park Academy in a spring renovation project in the school’s courtyard garden.
 What are the destinations for these plants this year? 

Some are intended to help re-make a courtyard at Mounds Park Academy or serve as additions for this school’s large wetland buffer and three large rain garden basins. Farnsworth 5-8 has plans to embellish its front yard renovations begun last year with woodland seedlings grown from seed purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery and prairie seeds gathered from its sister school. The lower campus of Farnsworth plans to rebuild its large side yard native demonstration garden in response to damage from summer vandalism. They’ve got three light racks filled with seedlings and will be providing plants for many different projects around the District. French Immersion will be putting the finishing touches on a Peace Garden before they embark to a new site at the former Ames Elementary campus where they will re-open next fall. St. Peter’s is continuing to add to its award-winning LEAP site. And the rest of the hundreds of plants – they’ll likely find homes at several church rain gardens and other residential sites that infiltrate stormwater before it hits the streets. 
So what’s in store for April and May? 

It’s time for classrooms to take their learning to a deeper level as they prepare for spring service learning projects that will address watershed issues. High school students at Harmony Learning Center in Maplewood, 6th graders at Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet School in St. Paul and 4th graders at L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion School in St. Paul recently completed lessons that immersed them more deeply in specific issues, and acquainted them with real people who are involved with addressing these issues. Taking on the roles of real life characters in “If I Were You” stories like “History Mystery" and “Phalen Shoreline Foot Traffic,” students gained different perspective about local issues around the District. Thank you to Green Corps intern Nicole Soderholm, Master Naturalist Bev Blomgren and St. Paul Community Ed Service Learning expert Ginny Newman for assisting with these sessions.
Sixth grade students in Anna Dundek’s class at Farnsworth 5-8 present
their role play from History Mystery: A Story about Lake Phalen. They will
be working on creating the content for a website linked to a QR code on a
history sign that is being installed at Lake Phalen.

This month each classroom will choose a particular issue and create an action plan to address the issue, complete with timeline. In May students will implement their projects, and in June they will present their projects and celebrate at WaterFest! 

A warm thank you to these dedicated teachers and students who choose to make a positive difference in their communities through service learning. We look forward to seeing the positive outcomes of your efforts!

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