Michelle Monroe, St. Albans Messenger
SWANTON — In a change of pace for water quality meetings, attendees at a meeting sponsored by the Missisquoi River Basin Association Thursday night heard about education efforts at three area schools.
Students from St. Albans City School spoke of their work to create a rain garden at the school, and reduce erosion from Aldis Hill site of the Hard’ack Recreation Area. Educators from Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans and Sheldon Elementary School spoke about how they’ve incorporated lessons on Lake Champlain into their classes.
Team Renaissance, a seventh and eighth grade learning community at St. Albans City School, has been devising a rain garden to reduce runoff from the area where buses are parked. Currently, that runoff flows into a field used by students, explained Maisie Talbot and Victoria Wright.
Students researched plants, including conducting experiments, to determine which species would be best at making use of the stormwater and nutrients coming from the parking area.
The rain garden, designed with assistance from Stone Environmental, will be built this spring.
Sebastian Tatro, also of Team Renaissance, presented the students’ work on Hard’ack, located in St. Albans Town, where they have mapped erosion along the trail network.
“When people see water on the trail, they’ll kind of go around it, which will widen it,” said Tatro. The newly disturbed areas become vulnerable to erosion.
Weathering from water striking and then flowing off of the land also causes erosion, he explained. Students found one 200-foot stretch where weathering “had actually exposed some of the bedrock,” said Tatro.
The students applied for and received a $20,000 grant to repair the trails.
Tatro pointed out that water, and the sediment it carries, travel from the west side Aldis Hill (adjacent to Hard’ack) into the city’s storm drains and then into St. Albans Bay. Sediment is a source of the phosphorous which causes blue-green algae blooms. The blooms have created poor water quality in the lake.
The Team Renaissance project is a multi-year effort, explained Tatro, with new students picking upon the work done by graduating students.
Sheldon Principal Linda Keating brought a focus on place-based learning to the school when she took over three years ago. For fifth and sixth grade students, that has meant learning about Lake Champlain and the watershed.
MRBA director Alisha Sawyer took a camera to the school and asked students about the watershed and what can be done to reduce the runoff of pollutants into the lake. In a video shown at Thursday’s meeting, students spoke of manure injection (rather than spreading), the ban on spreading manure in the winter and planting trees along riverbanks.
They also talked of things residents can do such as washing cars on grass so the water and soap are absorbed into the ground and scooping up dog poop, which contains phosphorous.
Sheldon teacher Lauri Boudreau explained that standards required students to learn about ancient civilizations, particularly ancient Egypt and the role of the Nile River in its culture. Sheldon teachers decided to look at the Abenaki and the Missisquoi River instead.
Students were required to do research and write persuasive writing pieces on how to reduce pollution in the lake and its tributaries. “A lot of the kids are connected to farmers and they value their work,” said Boudreau. “And they also value the lake.”
Sheldon students took a bus trip along the Missisquoi River starting in Richford. Many of them were familiar with parts of the river, but “other kids had never really been out and looked at the river before,” said Boudreau.
Students at BFA also researched water quality as part of a Vermont Studies class last year in an approach to education known as project-based learning, explained social studies teacher Jeff Moulton.
The entire class chose to look at water quality, but each looked at different aspects of the issue. Many of the projects focused not just on causes of the problem, but possible solutions. For example, one student created a five-year plan for reducing the impact of BFA itself on the lake.
Other students looked at the possibility of building a rain garden to reduce runoff from BFA’s parking lot, while another group examined hot spots for pollution in the school neighborhood.
Students were required to write a paper describing their research, as well as a presentation of the research itself.
Area experts served as resources for the students and attended the students’ presentations, which Moulton said were some of the best he had ever seen. When he asked the students, he was told it was one thing to do a presentation for a teacher and peers, “It’s another thing to do it when experts are in the room.”
Work on the projects has continued, with the students who worked on the rain garden searching for funds to build it, and other students picking up the implementation of the five-year plan to reduce BFA’s impact on the lake after the student who drafted it graduated.
“Project-based learning doesn’t stop at the end of the semester,” said Moulton.
Kurt Valenta, of Sheldon, who works with area schools on science and nature education, also spoke. He has taken over the Bugs Works program offered by MRBA and originally created by John Little, of Montgomery.
In Bug Works children learn about the insects, which live in area rivers. A decline in insect life is one of the signs that a waterway is impaired and seeing rivers too polluted to support insect life has an impact on children, suggested Valenta.
“It’s when we start with the little guys ad the grow up with it, that’s how we make change,” he said.