Students will work with community business partners in the field of environmental quality and design to restore native plant ecosystems that have been overrun by invasive plant species. The site consists of an upland area that contains an archeological site and a small wetland. The finished product will be a passive park that educates the community about the importance of protecting and restoring native ecosystems, the rich archeological history of the area, and also sustainable design such as renewable energy and groundwater recharge. The area will also provide a field study site for the high school and middle school students next door to conduct experiments on water quality, biodiversity, and to observe native wildlife. The site can be used for lessons in other disciplines as well.
The restoration site collects storm water from both nearby schools and drains it into a nearby canal, which can feed to the ocean or to the everglades. By conducting yearly water quality tests we hope to study the effect of storm water runoff on our water supply.
The project began when a student in my AP Environmental Science class noticed the overgrown vegetation on what she knew to be an archeological site containing evidence of Indians from thousands of years ago. She began by organizing exotic removal days that involved the community. Her mother and I helped her to develop the idea into a full restoration project.
Several meetings with school administrators, community business partners and members, teachers, and students were conducted to flesh out the desired outcomes. Then our business partners met with students in a design charette to brainstorm ideas for the park design. The companies also sent representatives to speak to students about invasive species, the everglades and the importance of water quality, and the history of the everglades. We continue to meet to keep us on track to the completion of the restoration of the passive park.
The project has full support and participation of the school administration. The restoration site is on school board property that adjoins the two schools (middle and high school) and an administrator is present and actively involved in each meeting.
Students worked with two business partners who are LEED certified designers to work out a landscape design and placement of sidewalks and interpretive signs. Students also tagged invasive species for removal and will continue to be involved by installing additional plant species and carrying out science investigations to monitor the biodiversity and water quality of the site.
The impact of this project will last for many years to come. The finished design will include interpretive signs that educate the community about the importance of restoring and preserving native species and ecosystems, the ethnobotony of local plant species in the history of the peoples that have inhabited the everglades throughout history, and the sustainable design principles that have been used – including how they can use the same principles in their own homes. The project will continue to have an educational impact because the two nearby schools will be using the site for science investigations and lessons for other disciplines.
The school board currently maintains the property and has agreed to continue maintenance that will include mowing and weed control. Students will also monitor needed repairs and overgrowth that needs to be taken care of.
The local community is involved in three ways. 1) Community volunteer days will be advertised to install native vegetation 2) students are working with local environmental design consultants and an archeologist in developing and maintaining the site, and 3) community residents are involved in project meetings to give input.