Ask Muntaser Amin what watershed his school is in and he can easily tell you it is in the Elizabeth River and Eastern Branch watersheds.
Fellow fourth-grader Nolan Kok can tell you that the water from their school drains to Stumpy Lake.
“We researched impacts on watersheds and how to reduce pollutants into the stormwater,” another Providence Elementary School fourth-grader, Javon Hill, shared.
In the past five months, Amin, Kok and Hill, along with 17 fellow students in their grade level, became known as the school’s “Solutions Team.” They earned the namesake by representing Providence in the school division’s first-ever “Our Watershed Needs Identified for Today and Tomorrow,” or OWN-ITT, competition. All schools in the division were invited to compete and the top three schools in each elementary, middle and high school level will win $500, $250 or $150 when winners are announced in May.
“In the beginning we really didn’t know much about watersheds and now they are like little experts,” said Gina Byrne, the school’s gifted resource teacher who has met with them weekly. “I know some of them have been walking around their neighborhoods to see how much trash is in the actual storm drain. So they’ve really become aware and that way they can take that awareness and spread it with their parents and the community.”
Studying watersheds is part of the fourth grade curriculum in Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS). In fact, VBCPS students study a different aspect of sustainability at every grade level, beginning in kindergarten when students investigate and learn that materials can be reused, recycled and conserved. The following year, they learn that natural resources are limited and by fourth grade, they are studying the positive and negative influence of human activity on ecosystems.
Sustainability learning continues in middle school with students studying energy transformation to meet society’s needs. High schools offer several courses that dive into sustainability topics such as use of global resources, policy and impacts on populations. All of these areas affect the Earth’s triple bottom line, which refers to social, economic and environmental impacts.
For their project, the Solutions Team scoured the internet and the city’s website and even walked the grounds of their school and neighboring Kempsville Middle School to gain firsthand knowledge.
“As you can see, about 40 percent of our site is pervious ground,” Amy Bluhm stated, pointing to a satellite map as she and teammates took turns sharing research they uncovered before a panel of experts, since presenting before an audience is one of the contest’s requirements.
“The combination of land development, sea level rise, flat and low tide water topography and intensive coastal real estate infrastructure development puts southeastern Virginia, namely Virginia Beach, Norfolk and the Hampton Roads region, at extreme risk of storm surges,” Sophie Buddenhagen emphasized. Other students then went on to discuss environmental costs and potential solutions, such as rain barrels or rain gardens that could be added to Providence should they win the competition.
Regardless of the competition, Alexander Espinoza knows that learning about these issues is important.
“It will help the Earth. It will also help the community. You never know if someone else will have that big idea.”