What images come to mind when you picture your schoolyard from childhood? Do you see stark, barren scenes dominated by hardscapes?
Or verdant, lush environments teeming with songbirds and pollinators?
On a hot day last May, Crestwood Elementary School in Michigan took a step toward the second vision thanks to staffers from Trout Unlimited, local partners and the school—as well as dozens of hard-working and enthusiastic students. It was part of an initiative by TU in Michigan to build partnerships with local schools to improve nearby trout streams in a way that empowers students, families, and school staff to participate and benefit from the opportunities that come along with a restoration project.
TU’s Jamie Vaughan and Abigail Henschell, landscape architect Rebecca Marquardt, and Crestwood Elementary School principal Nicole Peterson arrived early to stage plants, arrange tools, and connect hoses prior to the arrival of a wave of students to plant a bioswale.
After more than a year of thoughtful planning, the culmination of such projects is often a bit of controlled chaos as students get to let loose and get their hands dirty, particularly after a school year impacted by the pandemic.
The first class to come out was a fifth-grade class taught by Carl Baird, a local angler and TU volunteer. Asked about why the project was important for trout, they displayed an impressive knowledge of watersheds. It was clear that some of these bright students were budding stewards already.
As the oldest students to lend a hand that day, they did the challenging work of digging and planting a variety of native Michigan plants, such as blue flag iris and swamp milkweed. After they got the project started, a parade of eight other classes came outside to help throughout the school day.
Eager 4th graders excitedly carried and placed rocks to dissipate the water as it flowed into the garden. Younger kindergartners filled up cups and gingerly watered the newly planted seedlings.