Rum Creek will flow a little cleaner this summer, thanks to a rain garden installed by fifth-graders from nearby Parkside Elementary School.
Shortly before school let out, 150 students planted 2,000 native plants in a depression to collect stormwater runoff from roofs, sidewalks and parking lots that can carry pollutants into the creek. Instead, runoff is gathered by the plants into the soil, where it soaks in and is cooled and cleaned.
The students worked with several partners, including Trout Unlimited, Plaster Creek Stewards, Miller Pipeline (which donated excavation) and the City of Rockford under the guidance of teacher Tara Dzirbowicz. The project was funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a regional effort to protect and restore the world’s largest system of fresh surface water.
It’s part of the Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative Project, a water-quality effort funded by the Frey Foundation, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Wege Foundation, the Wolverine Worldwide Foundation and the Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited.
Dzirbowicz, whose students previously documented the removal of an old dam from Rum Creek, said she integrated science, reading, writing and public speaking into the rain garden project. They tested the health of the creek, researched possible solutions to improve it, and presented a plan that was approved.
“Real learning happens when we give students purpose,” Dzirbowicz said. “I have never seen such excitement over a project. Planting the garden was a huge reward at the end.”