- Sponsorship -

Celebrating environmental education, one plant or pollinator at a time

Multiple districts — It was a warm, sunny day for the Groundswell Stewardship Initiative student project showcase, held earlier this month at Grand Valley State University’s Pew Grand Rapids campus.

Groundswell is a network of schools and community partners that create opportunities for hands-on environmental teaching and learning in West Michigan. The showcase celebrates student-led, community-based stewardship by giving teachers and students a way to display and discuss what they’ve been learning.

At Caledonia sixth-grade teacher Becky Bravata’s table, a colorful, photo-filled poster explained how Bravata and her Kraft Meadows Intermediate students worked to install a native plant garden at their school.

“My students are studying the benefits of native plants for local ecosystems and our watershed through designing and planting a pollinator garden,” Bravata said. 

Kraft Meadows Intermediate sixth grade teacher Becky Bravata, second from right, and her students at the Groundswell Stewardship Initiative student project showcase

Bravata teamed up with another sixth-grade class at Kraft Meadows to make a plot of land outside her classroom suitable for growing plants and flowers. 

As part of the landscaping team, sixth-grader Sam Crosby said their job was really hard and “a lot of things can go wrong with landscaping.”

His classmate Madison Lipsman explained why they collected tree branches to lay on sheets of cardboard on the site of their future garden. 

“Laying tree branches on the cardboard helps to kill the grass, but it didn’t work,” she said. “Tilling the grass and dirt did work and now the next step is to plant seeds.” 

Madison also served on the graphic design and marketing team that created a logo for their new pollinator garden, named Scots Garden.

“We had to figure out our logo and a newsletter to get the word out about the garden, so people know about what we’re doing and how they can help protect our watershed,” she said. 

Celebrating Sustainability 

Since launching in 2007, Groundswell has been housed in the Center for Educational Partnerships at Grand Valley State University and is one of six hubs of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

This year’s Groundswell showcase featured projects from more than 25 West Michigan schools. Projects were set up inside the Richard M. DeVos Center and spilled into the outside courtyard, joining partner tables and a family-style picnic.

At their table, Kent City Elementary third-grade teachers Nicole Andreas and Billie Freeland showed off their students’ hydroponics farming project to a small crowd.

“Tomatoes, lettuce and herbs grow really well in hydroponic systems,” Andreas said, referring to the two-week-old sprout in front of her. “I have a brown thumb and even I can grow plants using hydroponics.” 

What is Groundswell?

A coalition of community partners and educators, Groundswell Stewardship Initiative works with 30+ schools and more than 5,000 students in West Michigan. Teachers within each school receive extensive, sustained professional development, as well as the opportunity for funding to implement student-led, community-based stewardship projects.

Elsewhere, Union High School biology teacher Nicole Durso and her students presented a plan to transform their schoolyard and develop intentional outdoor classroom spaces, incorporating Groundswell’s place-based teachings which take into consideration the local culture, history, and issues.

“We need spaces in our schoolyard where our scholars can learn outside and the community can come together for purposes related to academics, exploration and recreation,” their presentation read.  

Durso’s students took the lead on collecting data through nature walks, documenting the strengths and issues of the existing outdoor spaces and conducting a community survey. The students’ local environmental problem and solution project posters were also on display.

Ninth-grader Batulo Mohamed said she had fun learning about native plants and having the opportunity to plant and grow at her school.

“It’s really important (for our school) to look like a welcoming place,” she said. “Just putting out the plants is going to make it like home and like a paradise.” 

Fellow ninth-grader Jalia Gikundiro said their Groundswell project taught her communication and teamwork skills, and also noted, “it was a good bonding experience.”

“Planting native plants is sustainable,” she said. “If they eventually run out and there is no more, you can’t get it back or reverse it. We are sustaining native plants for the future.”

Adding Connection into Learning

Groundswell project specialist Mara Spears said the showcase serves as an opportunity for students to share their work with friends, family and the community.

She also noted the best way to get students invested in their education is to allow them the autonomy to choose what they’re learning about.

“All our projects are student-led because this element gives PK-12 scholars the opportunity to have agency in their learning,” Spears said. “This both excites them about the topic they’re studying and also deeply connects them to their local community and environment.” 

At the showcase, Groundswell also recognized two teachers for their work in environmental education. 

Caledonia’s Bravata received the “Sprout” Teacher of the Year award, celebrating an educator who has worked with Groundswell for two years or less, excels in engaging students in outdoor learning and goes above and beyond in stewardship work. Michelle Holiday from Grand Rapids Public Schools Montessori received the “Swell” Teacher Award, for being an outstanding Groundswell educator and for her commitment to exemplary stewardship education.

Read more from our districts: 
Lettuce lessons: Third-graders learn about hydroponic farming
Survivor: Kraft edition
Environmental educator on a quest to make learning more meaningful — and fun

- Sponsorship -
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


Related Articles

- Sponsorship -

Issues in Education

Making Headlines

- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You Live WGVU