Eastern Kentucky PRIDE

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Russell Co. Middle invites visitors to wetland

RCMS Laker PRIDE Club co-sponsors Jean Clement (seated) and Jennifer Hardwick (standing on left) accepted the PRIDE Environmental Education Project of the Month Award from PRIDE’s Jennifer Johnson.

Russell County Middle School Laker PRIDE Club co-sponsors Jean Clement (seated) and Jennifer Hardwick (standing on left) accepted the PRIDE Environmental Education Project of the Month Award from PRIDE’s Jennifer Johnson for the RCMS wetland repair project during Summer Day Camp.

You may have noticed some changes to the landscape in front of Russell County Middle School. As you drive along Hwy. 127, you can see large channel rocks that were added to the school’s wetland on June 9 during a repair project that included 33 students. CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS.

“We welcome everyone to stop by the wetland and take a closer look,” said Jean Clement, the teacher who leads the school’s environmental education program. “There is a beautiful, healthy willow tree growing in the wetland, and we have added benches and a gazebo so you can sit and watch the wildlife in this amazing ecosystem. Anyone can see why students are so excited to spend time out there.”

A wetland is an area of shallow water that is full of life. A healthy wetland is home to a wide variety of plants and animals, including natural predators of mosquitoes, such as salamander larvae and dragonflies. Wetlands absorb floodwater and filter pollutants.

Clement said the RCMS wetland was restored about two years ago using grant funds through PRIDE and the Sheltowee Environmental Education Coalition. PRIDE funds also paid for the recent repairs.

“There was a natural wetland in that spot any way, so we restored it as a learning environment,” Clement explained. “Instead of trying to hide it, we brought it back to life.”

“I have used the wetland to teach science lessons, and I believe more teachers will be using it now,” Clement said. “I hope the community will enjoy it, too.”

“Environmental education is what we do in Russell County, and this wetland is another way for the community to get involved,” Clement added.

The wetland has thrived, but runoff from the nearby parking lot threatened to fill it with silt, which would kill its wildlife. The repair project fixed that problem by adding channel rocks to block runoff, prevent erosion, and changing the wetland’s shape slightly.

The repair project was held on the first day of the school system’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers Summer Day Camp program so that elementary and middle school students could participate. Several high school students in Carol Ackerman’s AP Environmental Science class and Marin Brumett’s ESL and Migrant program also participated in the event.

“Tom Biebighauser, who is a wetlands specialist with 40 years of experience, led the project, and he really engaged the students,” Clement said. “He talked to them about the science and importance of wetlands. He even taught them about the plants and their history. He showed them how early settlers dipped bull rushes in animal fat to create a ‘poor man’s candle.’”

“Then the kids put on waders and got into the wetland,” Clement said. “They loved it. They tested for pH and dissolved oxygen levels; caught a red-spotted newt; and found frogs, frog eggs, crawdad holes and a bird’s nest. With Tom’s help they concluded that our wetland is healthy and functions well as an ecosystem providing habitats for a variety of organisms.”

Many people contributed to the repair project. Clement thanked Susan Melton and Kandi Campbell of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and the Summer Day Camp personnel. Barnett Construction operated the excavator.

For helping with the repair project, as well as its restoration and maintenance, Clement thanked Superintendent Michael Ford, Principal Doug Holmes, Maintenance Supervisor Scott Thomas, Russell County Conservation District’s Jennifer Hardwick (RCMS Laker PRIDE Club co-sponsor) and David Kimbler, Center for Wetlands and Stream Restoration’s Tom Biebighauser, and PRIDE’s Jennifer Johnson and Mark Davis.

PRIDE presented its Environmental Education Project of the Month Award to RCMS for the project.

“Ms. Clement and Jennifer Hardwick are excellent environmental educators,” said PRIDE’s Jennifer Johnson. “They could have just brought in an excavator and fixed the wetland with little fanfare. Instead, they made the repair project a fun, unforgettable learning experience.”

“PRIDE has funded 61 small wetlands and rain gardens for environmental education across the region since 1997, and they are great assets to the schools that have them,” Johnson added. “Teachers use wetlands for many subjects, from biology to math to creative writing. Outdoor classrooms often make lessons more interesting and memorable, and for some students who struggle in a traditional classroom, they excel in this hands-on, real-world setting.”

KET filmed the RCMS wetland repair project for an episode of Kentucky Life that will feature the PRIDE program. The broadcast date will be announced at www.ket.org and www.kypride.org.

To learn more about wetlands, visit www.wetlandsandstreamrestoration.org.

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