By Kerri Bartlett, Assistant Editor
To combat flooding on the playground, innovative sixth-graders at Freedom Intermediate School banned together to build a “rain garden” as contenders for the Siemens We Can Change the World Science Award this spring.
After surveying the school for viable environmental projects, the self-declared “Rain Guardian” team, comprised of four environmentally involved students, chose to build a rain garden on the fifth- and sixth-grade playground prone to frequent flooding. Rain Guardian team members include Ava Leathers, José Mata, Lanie Plunkett and Andrew Widman.
(From left) José Mata, Andrew Widman, Lanie Plunkett and (center) Ava Leathers
The students explained that a rain garden mimics the natural systems of rainwater that run into the ground or run off of permeable surfaces. The rain garden functions as a natural water purifier and filter that redistributes excess water into underground water sources such as streams and wells to prevent flooding.
Students at FIM frequently postponed football and soccer games on the playground due to water build up because of its location near the school building, which caught rain run off from the roof and collected in a valley.
“When it rained heavily, the playground would turn into a swamp and would even reach the first row of bricks on the school building,” said Plunkett.
Mata said, “The water would take a long time to recede.”
“The soil was eroding away and creating dead patches of grass,” said Widman.
“Bacteria and pollutants would accumulate in the water and then flow into storm drains and eventually dump into the Harpeth River impacting organisms,” said Leathers. Project consultant and landscaper Skip Heibert of Heibert and Associates, LLC said, “I was amazed at the level of the students’ expertise. They had done their research.”
The Rain Guardians researched the project and got to work constructing the garden, which is already making a difference at the school and in the environment by reducing flooding and purifying water as well as positively impacting organisms in the process. The students planted the first plants in their garden March 20, which will serve as an additional way to absorb and purify water. The students were able to fund the project through a grant from the Sustainability Steward Award that the school received earlier this year.
The students desired to solve the flooding problem on the playground as well as make a lasting impact on their school community and its surrounding environment for years to come.
“This is an opportunity to allow students to see a problem, think about a solution and have an impact on their world,” said science teacher and project co-chair Angie Tisdale. “It is a way for them to be agents of change in their world.”
Project co-chair and teacher Barbara Orr said, “The students get to be the driving force of the project, and our school will benefit for many years to come.”
“I learned that you can really make an impact on the environment and learn how ecosystems work,” said Widman. “Some people might say, ‘these are just kids,’ but we did it. We made a change in our world for the better.”
Posted on: 3/21/2013