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Boones Ferry Primary School students work with the City to improve stormwater system on school grounds

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - From left: Cristian Perde, Liam Kleinke, Abigail Meyer and William Maina give a presentation to the rest of the fifth grade that shows where they would place plants around the school grounds.

With environmental degradation accelerating on a global scale, reversing the trend can seem like a daunting task.

Boones Ferry Primary fifth graders, though, are undeterred.

Recently, the students continued a project to improve conditions at a distinctly local level — their school grounds.

Through the City of Wilsonville's stormwater education program, these students are learning about the interconnectedness of nature, their immediate environment and how to improve the stormwater system at Boones Ferry Primary School.

During a workshop Wednesday, Dec. 4, they created maps that outline where to grow specific plants at the school and presented their assessments to the rest of the grade. Soon, their input will be synthesized and turned into an action plan.

"It's something where we're working on a real project and it's right outside our classroom doors, so it's something they see every day," said fifth grade teacher Amber Brown. "So it already feels important to them, and then to have the ability to actually design it — we're going to be planting in the spring — it feels like a real experience, an authentic experience to them."

City of Wilsonville Natural Resources Manager Kerry Rappold said the project was undertaken in response to needed improvements at the West Linn-Wilsonville School District stormwater facilities — swales, pipes and other things designed to manage stormwater runoff.

Boones Ferry was chosen because it's one of the older schools in the district. The project is a collaboration with Habitat Landscape Design, is funded through a $10,000 community enhancement grant, and will include interpretive panels.

"We're hoping to have something here that's a long-lasting relationship with the school district and do other programs that are related to the work we're doing with this project," Rappold said. He quickly identified student involvement as a valuable opportunity.

"We started thinking how can we get the school district involved where it's a benefit to them ultimately in terms of being an improvement to planting and the condition of the facility, but then really engaging the students, making them aware of what surrounds their school and how important it is to be a part of that, a steward of that," he said.

With the help of Habitat Landscape Design, stormwater education is integrated into Boones Ferry fifth grade students' curriculum this school year.

Prior to the exercise last week, the students learned about the nuances of water, ecosystems, the bioswale, which is a channel that receives stormwater runoff, and the local environment. Rappold said a similar project might be conducted at Boeckman Creek Primary School next year.

"I think it teaches the kids about how it impacts more than just them, more than our school," Brown said. "It stretches beyond to our whole community and the world so they can see how these things are really connected."

Leslie Campbell, founder of Habitat Landscape Design, said it's beneficial for the students to learn about the connectedness of rivers, streams, wetlands and natural habitats in the area. The students created maps to show these various resources during one recent project.

"It's about understanding the attributes of the natural systems that are here, but also how we conserve them and preserve them," Campbell said. "All the research shows that cortisol levels go down, our blood pressure goes down, our endorphins go up; we're healthier beings when we're connected to nature."

During the project last week, the students decided which plants to place at various spots around the school while considering which greenery can provide shelter for other plants, which need more or less water and sunlight, soil differences and how the plants impact the surrounding ecosystem.

"We didn't know how to start, so we just started reading about the plants and checking off what we thought was good, and basically we made a key and started drawing," fifth grader Emily Reinberg said. "We were thinking about where it's the most sunny, where it's the most wet, and fitting the plants where they're happy."

Rappold also talked to the kids about what it means to be a good steward.

"That means you're actively engaged with trying to protect and conserve the resources that we have," he said. "That starts with everything you do every day."

Fifth grader Ronan Nothwang enjoyed learning about how plants can impact the nearby ecosystem while fifth grader Jordyn Stahl appreciated the practicality of it all.

"My favorite (part) is thinking about the plants and animals and how we can help them, because I really love the environment," Stahl said.

Some of the goals of the planting will be to remove invasive species like English ivy and Himalayan blackberry and to bolster the native plant population. The students also will grow plants that manage stormwater runoff — like sedges and rushes.

"I was really impressed with the way the students were engaged with the process and how they worked so well together and their insights," Rappold said.

And Stahl, Nothwang and Reinberg are excited to get their shovels out and start planting this spring.

"I love getting my hands dirty," Reinberg said. "I love helping the environment. It's (the project) helping me like the environment even more."

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