Dr. Rachel Tustin
Dent Middle School
This is the first of series of blog posts recognizing winners of the 2016 Champions of the Environment awards.
Environmental education has been an important part of my life since I was a small child. I grew up in the Midwest, and my grandfather was a chemical engineer at a refinery. When he started out in his career, there weren’t a lot of regulations to protect the environment from what they were doing. He was a pioneer in fighting for protecting the environment in the oil industry. I spent a lot of time with him growing up working on various environmental projects, such as building gardens on vacant lots in our community. He said protecting the earth was a way to show your respect to whichever creator you believe in, and that is something I have carried with me for many years.
The October 2015 flood was the inspiration for our rain garden project. We have an enormous number of storm drains on our campus, that all drain into Carys Lake. At the end of last year, my students had to propose solutions to the issues they saw from our lake studies. Creating a rain garden was one of their ideas to mitigate our campus run off. I think one of the key lessons my students are learning from this project is that protecting our lake environment is an important part of their campus and community legacy. As responsible citizens, it’s not enough to just understand the lake ecosystem. They need to use that information to improve the situation for our community.
I think my favorite part of the project is getting students to apply science in a hands-on way. In designing their rain gardens, it hasn’t just been about research and coming up with a plan. Rather, it has been about applying science and engineering skills to solve a problem they identified in the community. A lot of students are taking huge pride in the fact that their design will be on our campus long after they have graduated and moved on. They are embracing it as their legacy to Dent.
The most challenging part of any project is funding and execution. We have been fortunate that the community embraced our project and we have been extremely well funded. For any teachers who are considering an environment project in their classroom, you always want to identify some funding sources. It can be granted, but it may also be donations or fundraisers. If your students are passionate about the idea, and it is worthwhile to your community, people will help you find the resources to make it happen.