More than 40 Reynoldsburg elementary students swarmed across the wetlands area behind circular yurt classrooms at the Summit Road STEM Elementary School, carrying buckets of water or digging holes for planting native grasses and plants.

More than 40 Reynoldsburg elementary students swarmed across the wetlands area behind circular yurt classrooms at the Summit Road STEM Elementary School, carrying buckets of water or digging holes for planting native grasses and plants.

Hands-on wetlands duty means getting your hands dirty and tromping through mud, Principal Dee Martindale said during a "Green Team" event on April 20 at the school.

"Our school supply list includes a pair of sturdy rubber boots," she said.

Green Team fourth-graders, parents and other volunteers picked up plastic and other debris, pulled out an old irrigation system and planted hundreds of wetland grass seeds and plants.

Last month, 150 students worked on the wetlands and released 600 fish into the pond.

The yurts are two connected, circular science laboratories that were built into the design of the elementary school when it opened in Sept. 2011 as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) school.

"The yurts are well-equipped rooms which were built with the purpose of being able to gather samples from the pond and wetlands area and take them inside for observations," Martindale said. "We also bring students to the wetlands to observe nature, then they go inside the yurts for creative writing connected to their observations."

Fourth-grader Hannah Dodley's rubber boots were muddy almost up to her knees. She held a large bucket of water, waiting to water a plant.
She said she likes working in the wetlands.

"We get to mess with water and plant a lot of stuff and help with the environment," she said.

Martindale said the Green Team began with five fourth-graders who wanted to start an after-school environmental club.

"They gave up five recesses, made flyers and helped me schedule events," she said. "We now have more than 40 members of the Green Team.

They work one hour a month after school on Fridays to clean up our campus.

"This special Green Team event is longer than usual," she said. "I told the kids we would be staying after school until 6:15 and they cheered. How often do you get kids excited about staying after school on a Friday?"

Martindale said the yurt classrooms are open for use to any school in the district.

Other districts have also been interested, she said. Gahanna's Goshen Lane Elementary students are scheduled to visit the wetlands.

"The wetlands activities give us an opportunity to make learning more relevant," she said. "Our curriculum is focused on problem-solving and real-world applications for learning. It's also great that our kids are taking ownership of this area."

She said school leaders consulted environmental scientist Mark A. Dilley, owner of MAD Scientists and Associates, based in Westerville, before designing the wetlands area, because the site was originally slated to become the school baseball field.

Dilley said the site was so close to an established "high-quality" wooded wetlands that he knew it was better suited to a wetlands area and hands-on science area than a baseball field.

He helped the school obtain more than $170,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency to begin building the wetlands.

"I grew up spending a lot of time outdoors and I think it is important for kids this age to connect to nature and the environment," he said. "Wetlands study also fits in well with the school's STEM theme."

He said the area includes a variety of different wetlands habitats, including an emergent marsh, a pond, a reforestation zone and vernal pools.

"We also have a dry hillside area that will be planted with prairie grasses," he said.

He said MAD Scientists and Associates specializes in ecological consulting.

"If we're lucky, we get to design a wetland where one wasn't before, like this one," he said.

More about MAD at environmentalconsultingohio.com and more about Summit Road Elementary is available online at reyn.org/summitroadelementary_home.aspx.