Georgetown Township Gets Schooled by Pinewood 6th Graders!

img_3621Back in September, we told you about an amazing project being spearheaded by Lori Barr and her 6th grade Pinewood students to restore swimming to Maplewood Lake.  Well, we are happy to say that this year’s class has continued the tradition of trying to solve the real-world problems in their own neighborhood!

img_3598-1Last month, all of Pinewood’s 6th graders presented their research and solutions to the Georgetown Township board and not only were their township reps blown away by what they heard, they have asked for copies of their presentations for further review. Dan Carlton, Township Superintendent, told the students they have “raised the bar so high I can’t even reach my arm high enough to show you how high it is!” The township is setting goals this month and they wanted to read over the resources and recommendations in order to pursue them.

The township had been previously unaware of the mosquito issue at Woodcrest Park [where Maplewood Lake is located] but students’ surveys found that spectators couldn’t even tolerate a soccer game due to the quantity of mosquitoes.  Students presented ideas for fountains, aerators and bat boxes. Fountains would keep most of the mosquitoes off the water, aerators would reduce mosquito populations because they move and clean the water and of course, our native bat friends could sleep all day in their cozy bat boxes and feast on mosquitoes all night.

captureStudents also presented ideas for a “natural playground” with the help of Natural Playgrounds in Canada. Students said in their presentation, “We want a natural playground because, you would feel like you are in the woods. The experience just feels like you are literally experiencing nature. The wood feels nice and smooth on your hands. Unlike metal and plastic.” They also presented ideas for native flowers for aesthetics and native plants for preventing runoff. 

capture2Because of a snow day in December, students had to problem solve another real-world problem: being behind on a project. Mrs Barr asked them to think about what their parents might do if they are behind at work. One student reported that sometimes, her mom has to work through her lunch which seemed to be the best solution to this hardworking crew. They worked through their lunches, they gave up extra class time where they would typically have freedom to chose their own activity – they chose to work hard to make their presentations the best they could be because they knew the township really wanted to hear what they had to say.

img_3631Seeing these amazing accomplishments has been a joy for their teachers. Mrs Barr has been teaching for 33 years and says that the past five years have been the best. “Mrs Brown encourages us to try new things and I’ve never seen anything like it. It takes courage as teachers to try new things, but you can be creative, let the kids have the power chord and let it be a student led classroom.”

Check out the clip below of a handful of students on the Maranda show that aired this week! On the way back to school one student shared with Mrs Barr, “I really feel like we’re a family. This is a year of family.”

6th Graders at Pinewood: You ARE a family and you make us all so proud! We are cheering you on and cannot wait to swim at Maplewood Lake and play at Woodcrest Park because you made it safe and fun once again!


Pinewood 6th Graders Work to Solve Real-World Problem on Maplewood Lake

img_1942E. coli is not anyone’s favorite topic. In fact, it’s probably not discussed openly in polite company. Certainly, if you had an E. coli problem you wouldn’t want anyone to know. And that’s exactly what the students in Lori Barr’s 6th grade class last year decided to change.

In 2009 Georgetown Township closed Maplewood Lake to swimming due to E. coli concerns and removed the sandy beach, installing instead, a splash pad for Jenison families to enjoy the park and still get relief from summer heat.

img_1968Last year, Mrs Barr wanted to be proactive about project-based learning and design thinking for her students. How can they be prepared for the needs of the real-world workplace like leadership, idea creation and problem solving? She approached the township and asked if there was a problem they would like explored or even solved? When Supervisor, Dale Mohr told her that he wished people could swim in Maplewood Lake again, she took the issue to her students and they accepted the challenge!

With the help of local non-profits such as Groundswell and LGROW [The Lower Grand River Organization of Watersheds], as well as Creek Connections at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania the students set out to perform water tests to determine how run-off effects our drinking water. Students tested for the presence of nitrogen, phosphorous and seven other paramaters and eventually, for E. coli.

LGROW asked Mrs Barr, “Are you sure you want to do E. coli?” and she responded, “I know I want to do E. coli” to which they told her, “Okay, no teacher has ever asked to do something this big.”

img_2275The organization had the students begin their project by designing door hangers that educated the community on the dangers and immediate implications for run-off and “how to dispose of things properly on your land and what choices to make with your  gardening and your lawn to avoid the phosphorous and nitrogen build up and what would cause the water quality to be compromised for the wildlife and organisms living there.”

Meanwhile, students spent five weeks collecting data from three different sites around Maplewood Lake for the E. coli tests and Georgetown Township offered to analyze their findings. They were feeling fairly confident with what they had found until a major water event occurred [such as a heavy rain] and the E. coli numbers went up significantly. They needed to figure out why.

img_2278However, the school year was drawing to a close and the baton would need to be passed to this year’s 6th grade class to continue the project. Mrs Barr needed new testing kits and, again, with the help of Creek Connections, she wrote up a quote and posted their project on in the hopes of raising the money for their continued research. Mrs Barr came to find out that Tom’s of Maine has an arrangement with Donors Choose to match the donations of any funded project that will go toward a green classroom project that qualifies, which ours did. Thankfully, the project was fully funded but the story wasn’t over yet…

This past June, Mrs Barr was notified that the project was also selected to be part of the Top Ten by judges [including Kevin Jonas for your Jonas Brothers Fans!] and be in the running for prizes ranging from $25,000 to $2,000. But they need your help!

If you’ve been inspired by the work our 6th graders [and we certainly hope you have been!] you can support them in the Tom’s of Maine Green Your School competition for a chance to win $25,000! All you have to do is click on the link below and vote every day until Oct 31. Just click:  Tom’s of Maine competition and scroll for “No Swimming Allowed…Whaaat?!” and click on VOTE. Please share with friends and family.

Thank you to Mrs Barr for being a passionate teacher who challenges her students to think beyond the textbook and classroom! Thank you to our partners who made this project possible! And of course, thank you to the 6th grade students past and present who will continue to work for the good of Jenison and Maplewood Lake! Don’t ever give up! We are Jenison!