It's hard work relocating a wetlands, students at Deer Creek Grove Valley Elementary School learned recently.
“They watered the soil but not enough,” said fifth-grader Sarah Crain, 11. “The holes were very hard to dig.”
Sarah and other third- through fifth-graders at the school helped plant native grasses and underwater plants last week in the school's new 3-acre wetlands outdoor classroom.
Fellow fifth-grader Shubhan Gulati, 10, said the work was sweaty, but rewarding.
“We will have teaching posts where students can fish or hold science classes,” he said. “They can test water levels and look for organisms or chemicals.
“It is so fun to have a wetlands. Not many people get to go and see one in their life, and we have one at our school.”
The project is in partnership with Tinker Air Force Base and other state and community agencies who worked alongside students at Friday's ribbon-cutting and planting.
Principal Debbie Straughn explained that a U.S. Air Force military construction project required the relocation of the wetlands from Tinker. The area couldn't be relocated on base, however, because of the potential that planes might strike birds.
Straughn, who had a wetlands outdoor classroom when she was principal at Deer Creek Elementary School, was looking to build an outdoor classroom at Grove Valley. She was put in contact with Tinker through the Oklahoma Conservation District Service. A $55,000 government grant paid for the project.
Saving a tree
Last year, Straughn testified about the project in Senate committee hearings in Washington at the request of Sen. Jim Inhofe. Students at the school watched the hearing via Smartboards, Shubhan said.
One part of the project that Straughn is most happy with is she was able to save a large, old tree in the wetlands area. She said plans originally called for the tree to be removed, but she pleaded for it to be saved.
Mark Bayes, with state Forestry Services, helped save the tree. Bayes was part of saving the Survivor Tree for the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
While older students planted Friday, younger students gathered at the tree and heard about its survival.
Shubhan and Sarah showed plans for the scope of the project, pointing out where there will be welcome centers, teaching platforms, bridges and a dam. They also talked about trails that will be built around the wetlands in the future.
The wetlands still has to be filled with water. In May, students and volunteers will plant water lilies and other aquatic plants. In the fall, they will plant trees. Straughn said she plans also for students to plant vegetable and flower gardens.
The wetlands also will be available to residents of The Grove, a community adjacent to the school, Straughn said.
The only drawback for fifth-graders is that they will be in middle school by the time the wetlands classroom is complete.
Sarah and Shubhan said they've already brainstormed with Straughn about forming a middle school club to help maintain the wetlands or to use it as a classroom.