Richland Soil and Water Conservation District was presented with a community involvement award for helping to spruce up a local teacher’s outdoor classroom.
Dutch Fork Middle School teacher Lori Wenzinger and Action for Unity, a youth empowerment group she founded, were named the recipients of a 2017 Conservation Education Mini-Grant from Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (RSWCD). Wenzinger used the grant money to install a bioswale at the “outdoor classroom” she helped start at the school. A bioswale is a landscaping element that helps reduce and control stormwater runoff.
“Our outdoor classroom was coming together nicely, but the ground was just always wet and muddy,” Wenzinger said.
After Wenzinger received the grant, Chanda Cooper of Richland County Conservation and Karen Jackson of Clemson Extension visited the school for several working lunches with students and eventually decided that a bioswale would help with drainage and keep the ground dry.
With the necessary supplies and supervision, students began building the bioswale by digging holes and leveling the ground, planting carefully selected flowers, shrubs and grasses, and laying pine straw.
“We know efforts such as the bioswale installation can make a huge impact on students while also providing real benefits to the local environment,” said Chanda Cooper, Education Program Coordinator for Richland County Conservation. “We are incredibly proud of the results at Dutch Fork Middle School. The bioswale is helping address a stormwater concern while also beautifying an important student landscape and providing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.”
Since the installation of the bioswale, Wenzinger said the area has been noticeably drier and more conducive to a clean, outdoor learning experience.
“It rained the day after we finished it, and all of my students were looking out the window saying ‘I think it’s working! I think it’s working!’” she said.
In addition to improving the exterior education space at Dutch Fork Middle School, the bioswale project helped form friendships between students who otherwise would have never worked with each other, Wenzinger said, and it engaged some students in gardening for the first time.
The bioswale project was celebrated by more than just Dutch Fork Middle School staff and students. On Tuesday, the entire Lexington-Richland School District 5 presented RSWCD and Clemson Extension with an Outstanding Volunteer Group Award at the district’s annual Community Involvement Celebration. The awards are presented to groups and individuals whose support of the district helps strengthen ties between schools and their surrounding communities.
“It’s great to witness the enthusiasm of Mrs. Wenzinger and her students,” said RSWCD Chairman Kenny Mullis. “They have done an excellent job building their outdoor classroom."
RSWCD is a five-member board of volunteer commissioners that promotes the wise use of natural resources for the benefit of the residents of Richland County. RSWCD works with the Richland County Conservation Department to promote sustainable agriculture and conservation awareness. Twice a year, in the spring and fall, RSWCD awards $500 mini-grants to qualifying applicants for use in conservation-themed projects or programs.
“Supporting conservation projects at local schools is a big priority for the RSWCD,” Cooper said. “This school year, we awarded nine mini-grants to schools throughout the County, bringing our total to 50 grants awarded since the program began in 2012.”
For more information, about RSWCD or the Richland County Conservation Department, visit www.rcgov.us/rswcd.