Growing up in urban Southeast Washington DC, Principal Michael Powell was shaped by the time he spent in his mother’s garden. This early exposure to nature inspired his thinking as an educator. The desire to connect his students to nature and help bridge the achievement gap in an innovative way led Principal Powell to convert his school’s underused grassy field into a thriving ecosystem of native plants, paired with a complementary eco-curriculum for students and teachers.
With support from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and grant funding through the Community Foundation and matching support from Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities, alongside many volunteers, the space was planted with 187 native plants, 53 shrubs, and 16 trees designed to mimic forest succession with a meadow, understory, and mature trees.
This April, the Chesapeake Stormwater Network (CSN) recognized the John B. Cary School, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, and Manchester Gardening, for their work in creating an outdoor learning space that engages teachers and students, creates crucial habitat for pollinators, and captures and treats stormwater runoff. Areas with large amounts of asphalt, such as schools, often create opportunities for rainwater to collect and gather sediment and pollutants such as oil, fertilizer, or road salt.
In our watershed, all these pollutants end up in the Chesapeake Bay, unless they can be captured and filtered first. The space at the John B. Cary School uses multiple stormwater best management practices, also known as BMPs, for dealing with stormwater in ways that are both innovative and inspiring.
The Chesapeake Stormwater Network connects a group of over 11,000 stormwater professionals to promote sustainable stormwater management across the Chesapeake Bay. The Best Urban BMP in the Bay Awards, or “BUBBAs”, now in its ninth year, recognizes innovators using new and creative BMPs for treating and controlling urban stormwater pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This year’s BUBBAs Grand Prize was voted on by nearly 1,000 individuals.
There were seven categories of BUBBAs for the 2023 awards: Best Residential BMP, Best Ultra-Urban BMP, Best BMP Retrofit, Best Habitat Creation, Best Stream Restoration, Best Education and Outreach Project, and Best Innovative Stormwater Permit Implementation.
The John B. Cary project was selected as the Best Habitat Creation by a panel of stormwater management professionals for both its design and the way in which it has been embraced by the school and community. The successional planting will provide a mix of ha bitat types and is designed to allow students to study the effects of urban heat islands over time as the forest matures. The inclusion of environmental education opportunities encourages students to get outside, investigate issues and actively seek solutions. Highlighting projects that can inspire the local community and demonstrate the range of benefits offered by sustainable stormwater management is exactly what the BUBBAs aims to accomplish.
After winning first place in the Habitat Creation category, the John B. Cary project was then voted in the Grand Prize “people’s choice” vote, alongside the six other category winners, ultimately achieving the title of Best Urban BMP in the Bay. The project will be featured as part of the Chesapeake Stormwater Network’s 2023 Webcast Series, along with some of this year’s other category winners.
The recognition is an important reminder to Principal Powell, and everyone who now gets to interact with the eco-campus on a daily basis. Powell says that the space is being used as planned, with teachers educating youth about reforestation as well as other environmental issues and solutions. Classes utilize the space for social emotional learning and to help students who learn better outside of classroom environments. Families gather “just because” in the outdoor classroom, and the community helps care for the space.
“The most important lesson was to invite the community into the project at every opportunity,” said Principal Powell. “This includes bringing them in during the envisioning, implementation, maintenance and celebration phases.” With their successful eco-campus, John B. Cary Elementary School and the community truly have a lot to celebrate.
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