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Schoolyard Watershed Stewardship

Oh, the creatures you’ll find in a creek!

Early Childhood Center students shrieked as they discovered the tiny inhabitants of Plaster Creek. “I got something! It’s got legs! It’s got legs!” one squealed as she scooped an insect from a mini-pond created over plastic inside a hula hoop.

Students explored, observed and connected with nature during Water Day, a celebration of Plaster Creek. It was organized by West Michigan Environmental Action Council and with participation from Plaster Creek Stewards with General Motors, Grand Valley State University, Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds, Kent County Department of Public Works and the Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute.

Samantha Ramirez-Garcia learns about water bugs from WMEAC intern Brooke DeBaar

At themed water stations set up in the school’s Outdoor Learning Lab, students learned about the Plaster Creek Watershed, ecosystems, biodiversity, life cycles, and plastics and other pollutants.

It was all about taking care of their surroundings, said Jessica Vander Ark, director of environmental education for WMEAC. Even the district’s youngest students can be involved in taking care of the creek,  which flows through the ECC school yard.

“We think it’s so important that these students are finding out they have a creek they are partially responsible for. Their families and their actions all affect the watershed. We want to start teaching the whole idea of stewardship early… We want them to care about Plaster Creek and the Grand River Watershed.”

Gabriel Quintino examines creek water

Vander Ark takes fourth-graders stream sampling for macro-invertebrates each spring through WMEAC’s program “Teach for the Watershed,” which is run through a partnership with General Motors. Water Day extends teaching about the creek and watershed into earlier grades. “We wanted to find a way to do more and involve more of the students at Godfrey-Lee,” she said.

Preservation and Restoration

Plaster Creek Stewards, a program operated through Calvin College, hosts projects and outreach events to restore the creek, polluted over the years by stormwater runoff that brings contaminants into the creek and excessive sediments.

Devin Golden examines what’s in the water

Program assistant Andrea Lubberts said part of their mission is educating students about how they affect the 58 square-mile watershed and how to reduce water runoff and contamination.

Calvin and Godfrey-Lee Public Schools are both in the Plaster Creek watershed. “We feel very responsible for the health of the watershed because we live here,” Lubberts said. “If students understand that we all live in the watershed and we all affect someone else, we can start taking action.”

Second-grade teacher Lindsay Blume said the day ties in with science standards, including bodies of water and landforms. She said learning about those things right in the school yard is impactful.

“I like when they get outside and learn about the community and see what there is to explore. I hope they get out of it a better understanding of water, and more respect for it.”


SNN Article: Students Release Salmon into Plaster Creek

Students learn about the Plaster Creek watershed from Andrea Lubberts, program assistant for Plaster Creek Stewards

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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