Category Archives: Schools

Taking Water Harvesting to High School 

When I got a call from Amy Bell, lead Landscape Architect at Groundwork Studio, about providing a high school with water harvesting activities, I couldn’t resist.  Look at that rooftop on the south side of the school building, draining onto an gravel-covered opportunity site!

A project-based curriculum for high schools, Water Harvesting on Site, is one of the results.  Initiated in early 2017 at at ACE Leadership High School in Albuquerque, we developed a set of activities that guide students through the main steps of designing with rainwater.  We also provided a conceptual landscape plan for part of the school campus that would sink stormwater into earthworks (basin, swale, berm) for landscaping plants and store it in a water catchment tank for a garden bed.

The preliminary curriculum is now offered to educators who are interested in integrating Earth Sciences, Mathematics and Design lessons on a school campus or other local site.  The focus is on the place where students go almost every day, where they can relate to stormwater as a resource for growing food gardens and healthy landscapes.

The curriculum is aimed at project-based programs where instructional support and materials can be provided.  The activities can be connected to STEM standards (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), plus Art!  In addition to project-based learning, this could work for an independent study program or even home schooling.

Considering the children and youth in this age of climate change, we need to generate on-the-ground experiences that connect rainwater, soil, and plants, leading to resilient landscapes.

Activities

  1.  Site – Observe and Map Water Flows
  2. Site – Assess Rooftop Water Supply
  3. Site – Assess Soil Drainage
  4. Site – Survey contours
  5. Site Summary: Landscape design – mapping
  6. Environment: Watersheds and Drainage
  7. Environment: Precipitation and Climate
  8. Environment: Plants and Water Demand
  9. Design Strategies: Water Storage
  10. Design Strategies: Earthworks
  11. Design Strategy: Soil enrichment
  12. Option: Design project

Educators who are interested in reviewing the curriculum can contact Joanne McEntire on the Contact Page.  Please note your school or organization, and location.

Environmental Education in Place

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.

School on Wheels

Terry Dunbar on site before installation

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.

Photo: Cass Landrum

Photo: Cass Landrum

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.

Splash basin under downspout

Splash basin under downspout

 

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.”

MS students sage plant C

Planting a Sage on basin edge

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.  Crew

Querencia Green Reaches Out with Partners

2015 Monsoon News from Joanne McEntire

The accelerating need for adaptive resilience in the US West motivates me to continue the work of Querencia Green: providing outreach and educational opportunities about green infrastructure and water harvesting.  The Juan Tabo Seed Library and the city’s Open Space Visitors Center hosted my Water Harvesting Basics class last spring,  Homeowners with run-down yards or difficult, eroding areas got a new perspective about tending the water/ soil connection.  I’ll be at the Urban Homesteading Club on August 24 with an accelerated version of the class.   Thank you to the site hosts of this free class!  

During the past few months, I worked on a few grant proposals that are leading to new resources for Querencia Green.  A complex project up the watershed of Tijeras Creek holds numerous educational opportunities.  In collaboration with Jim Brooks, the site manager of the Tijeras Creek Remediation Project (aka Soilutions‘ lead man and soil expert), we will strengthen the educational opportunities at the site: hands-on experiences with green infrastructure, suppression of invasive plant species, and improvements in soil health and stabilization.  I first explored the site in early 2014 and reported in the blog post Earthworks Working.

Jim Brooks explores the restored plant community at Tijeras Creek with visitors.

Jim Brooks explores the restored plant community at Tijeras Creek with visitors.

The good funding news: ABQ Involved has provided a small grant for field trips with Highland High School’s Advanced Science class to the Tijeras Creek Project.  A new grant from PNM’s Power Up program will increase the number of field trips and work parties at Tijeras Creek while supporting an expansion of the streambank recovery area.  We’ll post news about upcoming workshops in the next month so you can get out there to dig, pull and rock.  Thank you to the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico and Executive Director Barbara Garrity for your support in submitting the grants, and all the collaborating partners, current and future!

In other ‘free’ hours, I’ve practiced water harvesting design as a community service to the Valle del Oro National Urban Wildlife Refuge, focusing on its old farmhouse, and the Walatowa Charter High School at Jemez Pueblo.  One more service project is in the works.

Practice practice practice.  And observe.

It’s raining, again.

 

 

 

Planting the Water for Green Learning Spaces

Do you have a favorite school, one that you attended, or where your children learn?  Do the outdoor areas provide a natural experience?  It seems that many school campuses around Albuquerque have unused spaces that could offer students outdoor opportunities. Other schools feature water-friendly green infrastructure with new facilities that are designed by professionals.

The swale near the Highland High Science Building in fall season

A few years ago, the Science teachers at Highland High School were happy to move into a new Science building, but there was no landscaping near the main entrance.  Gale Borkenhagen teaches the Advanced Environmental Science class, and she connected with other teachers who realized that the barren space was not going to pass.

Stormwater from the rooftop flows onto the site through two downspouts.  A retired teacher, Maura Montoya, dug a swale to slow and convey the water.  Overflow water was then conveyed into a nearby bare space through a pipe under a sidewalk.  Gale generated small grants from local funders, and bought a number of diverse trees.  Students have helped maintain the grove, with custodians adding water as needed.

Gale Borkenhagen visits the grove in winter.

The grove now becomes a mini-oasis in monsoon season, and it’s a textured, colorful space year-round.  Many of the trees provide shade on the building (saving energy) and an “encounter with nature” that people need for mental health and functioning.

Creative teachers nurture the love of nature throughout the public and charter school systems.  Teachers and students are building and growing edible gardens, and rain barrels or tanks can store rooftop rainwater for use in the dry months of the growing season.  There’s a lot of rooftops on school sites in New Mexico’s cities and towns .

Exploring an unused space at Valle Vista School

Observing the low and high, pervious and impervious areas.

Recently, two visitors explored a barren space with teacher Mike Goss at Valle Vista Elementary School.  Here is an opportunity site for a small grove that students can plant and love.

Currently, the water that flows off the nearby rooftop collects in the space with very compacted dirt, and slowly evaporates.  Instead, it could infiltrate into broken, loosened up, amended soil within earthworks (basins and swales), allowing new plant roots to uptake the water.

 Old and New Drainage Infrastructure

Highland High – drainage area at downspout on old building

Like many old school campuses, Highland High has a number of degraded outdoor spaces and stormwater problems near old buildings.

Look for new buildings that are built by the Albuquerque Public Schools; they may feature green infrastructure that was included in the design and budget for the building’s construction.

The newest building on the Highland High campus features connected basins on two sides of the building, with trees and bunch grasses planted near each basin (below).

Large basin with winter rain in front of new Highland High School building