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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Shorewood Third Graders Mastermind A Rain Garden

Forty-eight Lake Bluff Elementary School students spent much of their third grade year learning about stormwater. They had a handy model outside their door.

A grassy soccer field used to occupy the northeast corner of the school yard, but was recently transformed to tennis courts, in honor of the school's recently retired principal.

Credit Karen Walton
Last February Lake Bluff students explained their stormwater management project to Shorewood school board members.

However, what was thought to be a loving and activity-inducing project came with environmental headaches. The school district realized it had to meet Wisconsin stormwater drainage requirements.

But the regulatory hassle became an opportunity for these third graders, under the guidance of teachers Brenda Eiers and Karen Walton.

“The solution to our problem is to add a bioswale,” third grader Chloe DeBlois told the Shorewood School Board last February.

The students emcapsulated their months of research and planning for the school board.

The kids learned all about the bioswale along the edge of the new tennis courts, and how a crew constructed it by digging down into the earth and laying a foundation of gravel, mulch, and soil.

Credit Karen Walton
The garden design phase.

The students took on the task of designing a garden planted within the bioswale.

“We met in small groups to create drafts of raingarden designs with attention to moisture levels, as well as the color and height of the plants and a mixture of flowers and grasses,” student Asha Lindvall told school board members.

The deep-rooted flowers and grasses help absorb more stormwater and clean it, they explained.

Credit Susan Bence
Third grade teacher Brenda Eiers marshals her class on planting day.

Last week, three months after their school board presentation, the kids finally got to plant fifteen types of flowers and grasses – from prairie smoke to porcupine sedge.

They had a big job to do – get 384 plants into the ground in one school day. 

Todd Graverson, one of the parents lending a hand, remarked:  “My daughter certainly didn’t know a lot about erosion and frankly I didn’t know what a bioswale was, but the idea that for years to come there’s going to be something to show for it instead of a test on another piece of paper."

Third grader Thomas West wore boots and his favorite t-shirt to get the job done. “It actually feels quite good because we’ve been waiting for so long and it’s actually quite fun,” he said.

West doesn’t mind getting dirty. “We just wash our hands afterwards."

Teacher Karen Walton said, “They’re having the time of their life, they really are. They said ‘When do we get to go out again.'"

The students officially relinquished their rain garden responsibilities as the school year ended. “Starting tomorrow the district’s in charge," Walton added.

Credit Susan Bence
Determined to break ground.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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