Students get their moment to shine at Groundswell showcase

After months of studying and collecting data, local elementary, middle and high school students can finally share their hard work on May 18 as part of the Groundswell Project Showcase at the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. 

Each year, Grand Valley’s Groundswell Stewardship Initiative partners with schools by providing resources and materials to help guide students through their projects. Near the conclusion of the school year, students can then discuss their projects with friends, family and Grand Valley faculty members.

In all, students from 22 participating schools – 21 schools will be represented at Friday's event – conducted research in environmental studies, examining issues related to biodiversity, sustainability and ecology. 

“My favorite part of the showcase is walking around and visiting each of the exhibit tables, and asking students about their projects,” said Mara Spears, Groundswell project specialist. “They are so brilliant and so excited to share with you about what they’ve been learning about.” 

Students discusses his research project.
Elementary, middle and high school students from 21 schools will present their research on May 18 at the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. ing issues related to biodiversity, sustainability and ecology.
Image credit - Daytona Niles

Central Woodlands sixth grade teacher Patty Tolly said her biggest hope for each year’s class is that the project opens new paths or options for a career her students may not have considered. Tolly and her classes have participated in the showcase for 12 years  

“I had a student, who’s graduating this year, write me an email saying how the lessons he learned in my class through Groundswell led him to his choice to become an environmental lawyer,” Tolly said. 

“It was so sweet. His email said, ‘Mrs. Tolly, you really instilled this in me, and I want you to be the first to know where I’m going to college and what I’m doing.’”

This year, Tolly’s class examined salt pollution, even developing its own podcast to share their findings and discuss other scientific topics that drew the students’ interest. 

“The kids are loving it,” Tolly said. “They’re constantly coming up with things that they want to do now.”

Spears said one of the stipulations for a school to participate and receive support from Groundswell is that students must lead the research. 

“That naturally makes the projects very diverse,” Spears said. “Depending on the support the teachers need, we work with them to make sure their students have that choice throughout the school year.” 

Which leads to some very interesting projects, such as those conducted by Keith Piccard’s sixth and seventh grade classes at Allendale Middle School. 

While the sixth graders are examining the aquatic ecology of the nearby Sevey Drain through the health of invertebrates, the seventh grade class is raising salmon eggs to be released back into the drain, Piccard said.

“So, it’s all baseline data on the biodiversity of the stream, and then we’ll measure the impact of it in the years to follow,” Piccard said.

“It is such an awesome feeling to watch your student. It’s one thing to get an ‘A,’ but then when they are asked questions by a professional scientist, it totally validates their data and makes them feel awesome.”


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