Project Description: Middle school students teamed up with well-known local artist Reb
Roberts to create a nonpoint source pollution educational art
campaign. Students painted both storm drains on the road approaching
the school, which was then connected by a mural illustrating the
effects of nonpoint source pollution on waterways and suggestions for
prevention. Students took part in a culminating celebration to unveil
their artwork to the community, which was very well-attended. The
sixth-grade students visited the GVSU science boat to perform water
quality tests and compare the river water with the water of Lake
Michigan. All sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students participated
in Mark Walton’s seminar educating the students about the negative
effects of water runoff from land and storm drains on the watershed,
and the actions that could reduce the amount of nonpoint source
pollution entering our water systems. In addition, all students toured
the Plaster Creek Watershed and followed the storm drains to the park.
They made observations during rain events and learned how the rush of
storm water had an immediate effect on Plaster Creek. Finally, Plaster
Creek Watershed Stewards presented an educational slide show to all
middle school students, giving information about storm water issues
Fostering Lifelong Stewardship: Students have a deeper connection to their waterways and know how
to communicate about threats to it.
Partners: City of Grand Rapids Environmental Services Department,
GVMC/LGROW, Calvin College - Plaster Creek Stewards, Ottawa County
Parks & Recreation Commission, GVSU AWRI, Sanctuary Folk Art, MI
Stormwater Floodplain Assoc, Kent Conservation District,
Funder: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Michigan
Department of Environmental Quality
Project Description: Students researched, planned, planted, and maintained a community
garden of native species and locally cultivated species. The heritage
garden idea was a result of a survey asking staff and parents about
resources they wanted to see added at the school. The garden features
native plants that help provide habitat and collect rainwater from the
school campus. Students learned about winter ecology, ecosystems,
water, and other monthly environmental science themes implemented by
New Branches Charter Academy.
Fostering Lifelong Stewardship: The rain garden has created a sense of pride in the school. This
project has encouraged students and families to become more engaged in
solutions for the local watershed.
Project Description: Butterfly Garden Project: With the help of an expert from Plaster
Creek Stewards, students installed a butterfly garden at the school.
They planted Michigan native and nectar plants that included: wild
columbine, wild strawberry, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan,
prairie dropseed, swamp milkweed, and poke milkweed. Teachers ordered
Monarch caterpillars for students to observe chrysalis-making and
metamorphosis, with the goal of releasing the butterflies in the
garden in the fall. Students will then track migration via the Journey
North project website, and investigate if NBCA butterflies reach the
Mexico overwintering destination.
Teachers used the various educational materials purchased with
Groundswell funds to teach about pollinators, butterflies, and
Monarchs in the environmental science classroom, as well as at NBCA
Earth Week Family Night held on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. With the help
of student volunteers at this event, New Branches provided educational
activities to help teach parents and families about the importance of
pollinators, butterflies, Monarchs, and planting milkweed.
Native Plants Area Restoration: Students filled in the collapsed rain
garden area with soil, then planted native grasses and sedges with
deep roots to stabilize and restore the area.
Fostering Lifelong Stewardship: This project has already made a positive impact on students in
all three areas – knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. They are able
to view the garden and watch it grow from both inside and outside the
school building on a daily basis. In the short time since the garden
was established, students have already become invested in not only
learning about pollinators, butterflies, biodiversity, etc., but also
learning about conservation efforts. They are becoming more aware of
the natural habitats that are all around them, even in the midst of
their urban environment. The implementation of the butterfly garden
and native plant restoration area has helped NBCA become one step
closer to its goal of becoming an environmentally focused school and
empowering students to become environmental stewards.
Partners: Plaster Creek Stewards
Funder: Baldwin Foundation and GVSU College of Education
Project Description: Students constructed a functioning school garden on the NBCA
campus using the unused baseball field. With the Groundswell grant,
students were able to fill 16 raised garden beds (8ft x 4ft wooden
boxes), one for each of the classrooms, with good quality soil from
Birch Tree Bark & Stone business. Garden supplies, including
tools, seeds, and other relevant materials, were purchased as well
with the grant. We are now able to provide teachers the opportunity to
bring classroom learning outdoors and to encourage student
interactions with nature.
During April, classes decided what plants to grow and helped with the
initial planting of their garden boxes. Once the crops started
germinating and growing, students helped with the daily/weekly
maintenance, including weeding and watering. Some classes were able to
use the crops in their garden beds in other aspects of learning,
including math lessons given by their regular classroom teachers.
Before the end of the school year, students were able to test-taste
some of the fresh vegetables and herbs. By having students directly
involved in all aspects of growing and harvesting fresh food, teachers
are not only encouraging students' relationship with nature, but also
promoting an understanding of agriculture and the farm-to-table concept.
Fostering Lifelong Stewardship: There were immense benefits for the students. Studies have shown
that school gardens increase student engagement in their studies as
well as promote positive behaviors not only about themselves, but also
about the school community in general. Students will be taking on
ownership of caring for living plants and learning about where their
grocery store food comes from versus the benefits of growing their own
food. The school garden will empower students to become more engaged
with and invested in their natural environment and teach them why we
should care about being good stewards.
Project Description: The previous landscaping along the front of the NBCA school
building consisted mostly of yew hedges. All of it was torn out via
skidsteer during Summer 2017. Nothing had been planted in the
meantime, partly due to budget constraints. This was the perfect
opportunity to support and strengthen our environmental science focus
and vision by using native plant landscaping instead of relying on
more traditional, nonnative landscaping design.
In addition to showcasing native landscaping, we used a variety
of Michigan perennial plants and shrubs that will increase the
biodiversity of habitats on our campus and attract important
pollinators. We also incorporated milkweed to attract Monarch
butterflies and focus on pollinator and Monarch conservation as part
of the student learning goals.
During the spring, students helped weed both sides of the front
entrance area. More weeding and the initial planting was completed
with the help of Groundswell volunteers including native plant
landscaping consultant Rebecca Marquardt and Jessica Vander Ark on
6/21/19. During that time, wood chips were also distributed along the
right side of the entrance area. The rest of the planting will be
completed during the summer 2019.
Fostering Lifelong Stewardship: The large scale and ideal location of this project will be one of
the school’s greatest influences on creating a sense of stewardship
and school pride among students. Not only is it going to make a
positive impact as one of the first things students, families, and the
community see before entering the school, but students will also be
confident in teaching their families the importance of the landscaping
habitat. Their ownership in helping maintain the habitat and its
integration into lessons will help sustain the project over time.
Partners: Revery Studio; Birch Tree Stone & Bark, LLC
For this year’s project, we are in the process of enhancing and
extending the butterfly garden area we established with Groundswell
and Plaster Creek Stewards in Spring 2017. We are removing most
non-native species, extending the area with additional native
pollinator plants, and adding more milkweed plants to be able to
fulfill our initial goal of registering the area as a Monarch
Waystation. We will also be turning the area into a functional outdoor
learning space with students driving the design.
The initial plan involved taking students to the Outdoor Discovery
Center to gather outdoor classroom ideas; however, due to Covid
restrictions, the field trip was canceled. As an alternate plan, I was
able to connect with Mei Mah, GVSU, via zoom for advice on
facilitating the student-driven design process. First, students
discussed in small groups the pros/cons of the current and only
outdoor learning space, which is located in the school garden
pavilion. Second, we discussed these opinions as a class and then
developed a list of needs vs. wants for the new outdoor learning
space. Each class agreed on three necessary items: seating, shelter,
and teaching space that includes white board. Currently, we are
awaiting Board approval for the overall design idea voted on by all
classes. Implementation of both classroom area and additional native
plants (planting scheduled for June) will occur during Summer 2021.
Fostering Lifelong Stewardship:
Students were excited to be involved in helping design the new
outdoor learning space. They felt empowered and inspired, which was
evident during both group discussions and design drawing time. I am
optimistic that students will be more invested in promoting the
benefits of our pollinator gardens surrounding our outdoor classrooms;
I have already witnessed numerous student attitudes change from
negative to positive regarding the bees and insects observed around
campus recently. They love being involved in the decision-making
process and have been more engaged with the nature lessons as a result!