Upper School students celebrated Earth Day early this year! On Monday, April 20 over 260 high schoolers flooded the Racine community to participate in a half-day of community service projects. Dubbed as “Emily’s Day” by the student body, this day also commemorates the strong passion for service in fellow high school student Emily Maki that passed away in 2011.
From outdoor clean up to painting to working with elders, this annual event is a division-wide effort that students look forward to each spring. This year, groups visited over 15 organizations including Tabor Woods Caledonia Conservancy, St. Monica’s, Cliffside County Park, EcoJustice Center, HALO, Riverbend Nature Center. After their morning adventures, students returned to campus and prepared a small presentation shared with their peers in the school’s theatre.
Student Project Enters a New Phase of Environmental Stewardship
As a special addition to this year’s activities, 11th grader Maya Dizack, presented on a year-long project that she recently received funding for. Spearheaded by the Dizack family over five years ago, The Prairie Stream Project is now a component of Prairie’s third grade curriculum.
Each year, 3rd graders conduct stream testing at three locations in the Wind Point watershed. They monitor pH, oxygen levels, temperature, turbidity, E.coli, and phosphorus levels in all three streams. Data continues to indicate a level of phosphorus that exceeds the State’s maximum acceptable level. This overabundance accounts for the immense growth of algae (cladophore) and the lack of diversity in freshwater species in the Prairie Stream.
Maya continues to play an integral role in the project, and as part of her continuous efforts to monitor and reduce phosphate levels, she has proposed to remediate the overabundance of phosphorus with the implementation of two 50-square foot BioHaven Floating Islands with phosphorus-removing vegetation. The islands are manufactured by Midwest Floating Island, LLC — a global company that works with organizations and customers worldwide.
Early this winter, Maya secured a $4,800 grant from Sweet Water, Southeastern WI Watershed Trust, to purchase the BioHavens. There was no better opportunity to launch one of the islands than this year’s Service Day. On Monday afternoon, Maya and her peers cast away the first 50-square foot island into the pond behind the school. Prairie’s third grade students will continue to monitor the water this summer and fall to determine if the BioHavens are making an impact on the phosphate levels. The second island will be launched in late May, and will serve as an open opportunity for volunteers to learn more about the BioHaven process and water monitoring.
As a special addition to Service Day presentations, outside community members and students joined Maya on stage for a panel discussion. The group facilitators included Kristine Stepenuck, Ph.D, Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program Coordinator of UW-Extension and WI Department of Natural Resources. Ms. Stepenuck explained the ongoing citizen science program, W.A.V. (Water Action Volunteers), and gave an overview of Prairie’s involvement with citizen science. Third grade teacher, Kim Leinweber and Scott Dizack discussed the conception of the Prairie Stream Project. Students Georgia and Evelyn Swedberg, William Heide, and Mikko Dizack joined the panel onstage in a mock question and answer session. Additionally, both Jennifer and Chad Swedberg added to the speakers and conveyed their transition as parents to citizen scientists, and now members of W.A.V. In closing, Maya reviewed what the next stages of the BioHaven project would entail, which included a brief look into future plans for the Wind Point Watershed.
Through students’ inquisitive nature to learn about Racine’s local streams; the Prairie Stream Project has developed into a community-wide effort that continues to garner attention amongst local and statewide agencies. Acknowledging the mission of the Prairie Stream Project, the hope is that this initiative will “grow and support a network of volunteers who monitor local stream and river health through data-sharing used for educational purposes, as well as build partnerships with resource protection programs.”
We look forward to the next chapter of this project!