Brooklyn Park students build rain garden

School project sparks teens' interest in bay and environment

May 17, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

Over here, reddish-bronze flowers of a little columbine nod in the breeze. And over there, a scrawny azalea is sprouting new leaves.

They are among plants in a new student-built rain garden at Brooklyn Park Middle School, an eighth-grade project that entwined everything from English and science classroom studies to service learning hours and getting dirty outside.

"One of the main ways you can conserve water is by having a rain garden," said 13-year-old Octavia James, pointing out aspects of the garden that will be dedicated in a ceremony Tuesday at the Anne Arundel County public school. "You don't have runoff, and you have fresh water, and that is good for the bay."

That most of the new plants, which include ferns shaded by an existing redbud tree and purple coneflower, are native to Maryland is critical, students said Friday.

"It's a native species," said Abbie Morton, 13, examining a columbine, "so they grow better. It won't become invasive."

Some of the more than 130 students were new to putting a shovel in the ground. Now some teens are inspired to try this at home — though, they acknowledged, it was dirty, hard work, especially in the heat.

"I never gardened before. I've never had a yard to garden," said Abbie. Now that she has moved into a single-family house, she's eager to get started, she said.

Octavia said she's trying her hand at composting at home.

"My mom and me, instead of using non-native plants, we used native plants," said Kenneth Lear, 14.

Classroom cultivation for the project included studying the Chesapeake Bay, reading a novel whose storyline focuses on an Eastern Shore family and pollution, and learning about bay-related political issues, said Josette Jurczak, their English teacher, who spearheaded the rain garden development.

The garden was funded by a grant of about $850 from Unity Gardens, a Crownsville nonprofit organization that supports environmental education in the county. Much of what's in the garden was bought at a discount or donated, Jurczak said.

Over a week in April, eighth-graders stripped grass from an area about 15 feet by 36 feet in front of the school and dug out 80-plus wheelbarrows' worth of compacted soil, old construction debris and rocks. They improved and regraded the site with six cubic yards of composted leaves, added a couple of dozen plants and topped it with mulch.

Since then, many have taken to picking up trash, tending and watering their plants, and talking about adding to the sparsely planted area.

With a barely perceptible depression, the garden allows rain to collect and percolate through the soil, said Michelle Corkadel, a master gardener in the Anne Arundel County branch of the University of Maryland Extension and the volunteer who designed the garden and worked with the school, community volunteers and master gardener trainees.

"Most of the time it is sitting there looking beautiful, attracting butterflies and insects," she said. Native plants endure the local extremes of heat, cold, drought and rains, she said.

Principal Maisha Gillins said the garden's benefits go beyond environmental education and include beautification of the school, student teamwork and school pride.

She said students have asked to start an environmental club. "They are more environmentally aware," Gillins said.

While the plants are getting rooted there, their planters are preparing to leave for high school. But not all are ready to leave their garden behind and vowed to come work on it. Meanwhile, they show it off.

"I walk by here and I say to people, 'I planted that,' " said Carole Gee, 13.

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