Grants focus on school water projects

Twelve northern Michigan schools are reaping reward from the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative handed out $1,500 grants to use for place-based education for water stewardship projects this year. Place-based education uses the local community and the environment as a starting point for teaching and learning. With an emphasis on inquiry-based, hands-on, real-world experiences, and direct collaboration with community partners, these GTSI teams will accomplish project goals and outcomes that will benefits both the students and the community.

To receive grant approval, teacher teams submitted extensive project proposals to secure the financial support and resources required to accomplish their year-long plans. GTSI Program Coordinator, Jenifer Strauss has been making "Big Check" presentations to each school, thanking the teachers and students for their involvement in the Stewardship Initiative. The following GTSI school projects were approved for funding.

At Benzie Central High School, Kevin Kinnan's Environmental Science classes, students in Melinda Klockzeim's AgriScience/FFA program, and Josh Stoltz's students in SEEDS after school program are joining forces for a year long study of water related issues in Benzie County culminating in a Water Fair that will occur in collaboration with the Benzie County Water Festival. GTSI students will be presenting a variety of water related activities to increase awareness of the importance of water in Benzie County.

Cherryland Middle School sixth graders along with Sarah Pierson, I. B. Coordinator and GTSI Consultant, Kerry LaLone, Science and Social studies teacher, Jami Gray, (Language Arts), and Nikki Martin (Science) will continue a cross-curricular study of local watersheds, including the ecosystems at Maple Bay. In their second year of GTSI involvement, students will be providing interpretive signage on the trails and producing a video PSA about Maple Bay. They will also be involved in ongoing efforts to save the Dam Beech.

Students at Mill Creek Elementary School in Elk Rapids will focus on invasive and native species by creating a Native Species Demonstration Garden along with writing and publishing a book about native plants. Kim Ranger (3rd), Nikki Wilkins (5th) and Carrie Saunders (2nd) form the GTSI teacher team at Mill Creek.

Angela Stricker, Angie Ballmer and Megan Hancock lead the GTSI Team at TCAPS Montessori. Teachers and students have adopted a section of wild beach in Traverse City that may be slated for grooming. Students have made a commitment to not only keep the beech clean, but also collect data on native and invasive species, water quality, and storm water runoff filtering properties. Students will create, distribute and compile a survey to determine if there is a desire to save this section of wild beach, and then share their findings with appropriate city groups.

In collaboration with TCAPS Montessori, The Children's House will be researching and addressing storm water runoff management in two ecosystems; on their own school campus and the same section of wild beech in Traverse City. Students will examine the use of native plants in the protection of surface and ground water, investigate how decisions are made regarding water and land use, and learn how to communicate their findings clearly to the public.

The Greenspire School students lead by Erin Fitzpatrick and Will Havill are adopting the trails at the Commons. Along with patrolling for garbage, they will be creating and posting informative signage and receptacles for recycling. They are also becoming the "Keepers of the Kids Creek Watershed". Watch for their blog posts and documentaries on the changes in this impaired body of water. On April 27th, GTSI students from Greenspire will join forces with the Grand Traverse Conservation Creek to offer a day of informative trail hikes at the Commons.

Old Mission Elementary School has a team of 3rd and 5th grade students who are becoming Watershed Rangers. Using their own School Pond as a laboratory, students will be making observations, gathering research and learning about their connection to the natural world. As Watershed Rangers, Old Mission GTSI students will be guiding tours of their pond this spring, and passing their knowledge of the natural world onto others. Weslee Smith, Alisha Archer-Vanderford and Tricia Schneider are the teachers leading this team.

There are two GTSI teams at Grand Traverse Academy (GTA). Sandy Conrad, Lynda Fusti, Stacey Breimeyer, and Cindy DeYoung form Team #1, along with their students in Kindergarten through fifth grade. Yearlong lessons and activities will take these GTSI students on the "Journey of Water" emphasizing the importance of water to all living things and culminating in a Super Science Water Day. Kindergarten students are specializing in the life cycle of plants and butterflies and will be planting a butterfly weigh station garden. GTA Team #2 is lead by Nan Delucia and Matt Drost. Together, with their students, they will be involved in aquaponics, hydroponics, composting, plant-growing and to top it off....publishing a book of Great Lakes Animal Mythology.

Cherry Knoll GTSI teams are using the Vanderlip Creek behind their school as their natural laboratory. Younger Cherry Knoll students in Barb Corbett's and Tracey Westerman's 2nd grade classrooms will become certified as Cherry Knoll Rangers by studying the water, soil and plant cycle. They are setting up worm bins in their classrooms to learn how worms are natural recyclers. The fourth and fifth grade GTSI students at Cherry Knoll lead by Tom Cooper, Linda Egeler, Hope Bernard and Gary Schweitzer, will study the entire Vanderlip watershed and surrounding ecosystems to see how the water in their own creek is connected to Grand Traverse Bay. Students will produce websites and a documentary of their yearlong watershed study.

Up the hill from Cherry Knoll at East Middle School, students in Mary Brisbois and Than Dykstra's 8th grade science classes, and Melissa Rassel's students have embraced "Solutions to Environmental Challenges" by teaching their science curriculum with real-life, place-based experiences. Students will build generators to learn about the impact of renewable energy sources on watersheds. They will research the life cycle of a beverage bottle, create awareness of the use of water bottles at their school, and turn recycled water bottles into water filters and vertical garden space. Applying their knowledge of the earth's geo-sphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, students will study solutions to waste-water runoff on their school property, and improve decision making in regards to human impact by creating water filtering rain gardens. In their spare time, East Middle School students will teach the water cycle to the Cherry Knoll Rangers down the hill.

The Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative not only supports place-based educational experiences for area students with grants, but also provides year long, quality professional development for teachers, and the opportunity to build strong school-community relationships. GTSI teachers are provided with guest teacher fees, stipends, continuing education credit and registration fees to support their efforts. GTSI students are given the opportunity to not only learn about the issues effecting their community, but to offer positive solutions.

On December 10th at 6pm the TCAPS Board of Education will be recognizing all TCAPS GTSI teachers. The meeting will be held at the TCAPS Administration building at the Tompkins Boardman Administration Building, 412 Webster Street in Traverse City.