Dutch Fork Middle School’s ACTION for Unity team has received a $500 grant from Richland Soil and Water Conservation District to design and install a rain garden and wildlife habitat. Two years ago, Dutch Fork Middle School added an outdoor classroom for students to take learning outside. Water runoff has created a muddy area along the edge of the outdoor classroom. ACTION will build a bioswale, a landscaping feature that slows, collects, and filters storm water, as a solution to the problem. It will include plants that need wet soil and can readily take care of the water runoff issue.

Richland Soil and Water Conservation District connected ACTION with Clemson Cooperative Extension to work on this project. The Extension fulfills one-third of Clemson University’s land-grant mission of research, teaching, and extension by serving as the primary public service outreach arm of the University. Clemson Cooperative Extension Water Resources Agent, Karen Jackson, is visiting the ACTION team for three lunch and teach periods. During the first session, students learned about water quality and viewed an EnviroScape demonstration. The EnviroScape is a city model that shows how fertilizer, car oil, animal waste, and other everyday items can negatively affect water quality. For the upcoming two sessions, students will learn an overview of bioswales and best management practices, and plant the bioswale in the outdoor classroom area.

“Part of my job is helping people with these problems stemming from too much water runoff and erosion, showing them how to kind of naturally alleviate their issues,” said Jackson. “We thought finding a good grouping of native plant species that are adapted to those wet conditions will draw out the water while also beautifying the area.”

ACTION is a group of 83 students at Dutch Fork Middle School that works to build relationships between diverse groups. The club is broken down into teams of 12-13 students based on their interests. The team constructing the bioswale focuses on conservation. Alongside the ACTION team, two special needs classes will also be working on the project. Students will work together to budget, design the bioswale, pick what plants to include, and plant outside. This real world experience allows students to see a problem, and solve it from start to finish.

“With partnerships and purposeful acts of kindness, we can make a difference,” said Dutch Fork Middle history teacher and ACTION Adviser Lori Wenzinger. “The cool thing is we have 13 ACTION students and they’re pairing up with Ms. Mojica’s and Mrs. Deming’s students with special needs. We have groups of kids that may not be in class together working on a project that all of us get to enjoy. Every one of our classes uses that outdoor area and those students can work together to solve this problem. They’re building relationships with a diverse group and they’re accomplishing something that gives back to their school community.”

The bioswale will be completed in late March or early April. The outdoor classroom currently features benches, bird feeders, and trees. The new plants will hopefully bring butterflies and hummingbirds into the area, and will include perennials that will come back every year.

“A couple years down the road, this is the students’ legacy,” Wenzinger said. “They can come back here with a younger brother or sister, and say ‘We did that.’”