Many school campuses have portable buildings, eroded soils, and bare landscape areas. At the School on Wheels High School in the South Valley, our Places We Live team saw an opportunity for a small earthworks project.
During rainstorms, a downspout on a portable building flowed next to the building and the water collected and evaporated in a low area. A bio-retention basin could protect the building, improve soil, increase infiltration and nurture new plants.
Joanne McEntire of Querencia Green joined Science Teacher Terry Dunbar at School on Wheels and the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico (EEANM) to install the water harvesting project during the workshop series Places We Live.
The series began with an educators’ workshop to provide the place-based environmental education curriculum from Project Learning Tree. The South Valley MainStreet board chair, James Aranda, provided a cultural overview of the neighborhood, which created a greater “sense of place” for the group. Barbara Garrity of EEANM and McEntire explored the Places We Live curriculum.
To focus on issues of water and the important values of trees, McEntire provided activity materials and reviewed key components of rainwater harvesting. To prepare for the earthworks installation, she designed the basin and arranged for the needed installation materials, and a few science students put in some preliminary time on the site.
A multi-age crew of students from Jimmy Carter Middle School and School on Wheels, plus educators and crew chiefs, made the installation workshop an energetic success! We built a ‘splash basin’ under the downspout, dug a larger, shallow basin for the runoff, lined the sides with rocks, made “sponges” in the bottom of the basin to catalyze microbial activity, and covered the bottom with woody mulch.
The crew planted a Desert Willow tree and Autumn Sage on the edges of the basin, which will expand the native plant diversity at the school.
Teacher Terry Dunbar enjoyed the following day with his participating students: “When our crew members came in this morning, they grabbed their friends and took them out to the site to show off their work. They’re proud of what they accomplished.”
Future possibilities for students in the expanded outdoor learning environment include observing microbes in the soil sponges, comparing it to the native soil, supplementary watering in the first dry season, and adaptive actions that repair or improve the site. The other educators who joined the team hope to create water harvesting projects at their schools or homes.
This team project was made possible by the Albuquerque Community Foundation.