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Middle schoolers pitch in to help protect waterways

Create bioswale at Steelcase parking lot


Eighth-grader Chandler Baillie pulled invasive weeds, preparing to plant native flowers in a swath of land bisecting the Steelcase parking lot, which she and classmates are transforming into green infrastructure.

“Stuff that gets into the water, when it goes into this (bioswale), it isn’t going to go into the storm drains and contaminate our water systems,” Chandler said.

Chandler Baillie clears brush from the green space

Crestwood Middle School students spent a recent sunny Friday creating a natural space that keeps neighboring waterways clean and free of sediment. They lifted rocks, filled in eroded areas, and planted purple coneflower, swamp milkweed, New England Aster, little bluestem and other flowers with long, strong root systems. They are creating an area where water runoff from the Kentwood-based company’s parking lot will be absorbed.

Fifty-five seventh- and eighth-graders from the school’s P.E.A.K.S. gifted and talented program are creating the bioswale, which includes landscape elements that stop the flow of debris and pollution to nearby waterways. The young conservationists are working in partnership with Groundswell, a program through the Grand Valley State University College of Education, which is funding the project over five years.

Sixth-graders in P.E.A.K.S. are also creating a rain garden in their schoolyard. Students harvested seeds from the rain garden to bring to Steelcase.

Emma Kovacevic clears debris

The school and Steelcase are located in the Buck Creek watershed, which flows to the Grand River and into Lake Michigan. Preserving the water from contaminants is key, students said. Groundswell works to create stewards of the Grand River watershed and Great Lakes by working with schools and companies on projects that protect the waterways.

“This is a place where waters coming from the parking lot and it’s filling into the ground,” said P.E.A.K.S teacher Bobbie Fletcher, noting that many people do not realize storm drains funnel water directly to creeks and streams.

Students will monitor which plants survive and thrive as well as levels of salt in the soil. The plants will attract butterflies and pollinators.

“We are using native plants with deep roots and they can actually help filter out some of the pollutants from the river or our watershed,” said Rebecca Marquardt, landscape architect and place-based education consultant for Groundswell.

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Rain Gardens and Bioswales

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She 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, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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