For the second year in a row, students from the multi-age classes of Central Elementary have taken part in an outdoor work/learning endeavor with Luke Gran, forester and owner of Prudenterra.

This year, Jeanette LaGrange, a home and woodland owner in the Brookridge neighborhood in the heart of Ames, welcomed 23 first- and second-grade students to her land on Nov. 13 to learn about managing natural resources.

For more than 35 years, LaGrange has owned a home that overlooks a beautiful woodland oak savanna woodland draw above Squaw Creek. Changes in vegetation, stormwater runoff from development of structures, roads, and utilities and rainfall have resulted in critical soil erosion. She contacted Prudenterra, a local ecosystem restoration business, in early spring 2018, concerned by the sudden failure of a large tree at the base of her steep, eroded, woodland slope.

Gran was hired by LaGrange to thoroughly assess the site and make a plan to protect her home and land. The plan was comprehensive with elements of soil science, stormwater management, trails design, landscape design and forest management woven together.

In July 2018, the plan was implemented by Prudenterra. Unsightly, leaking drainage tiles along the surface of the slope were replaced, sealed, properly buried and drained into a stilling pond at the bottom of the steep draw. An innovative, attractive and inexpensive retaining wall and sustainably designed trail was built to comfortably explore the woods. A specialty material called Geoweb®, filled with four inches of topsoil, was used to help hold the steep ridge and base of the slope to provide a healthy substrate for root development and further help prevent slumping and erosion. Invasive species and other undesirable plants were removed, and this fall scores of different species of native flowers, grasses, sedges and rushes will be seeded, and diverse shrubs will be planted into the site to help establish diverse living roots to stabilize the slope and offer wildlife habitat and beauty for generations to come.

Kedra Hamilton, a multi-age teacher from Central Elementary in Nevada, Luke of Prudenterra and the Iowa Prairie Network teamed up to offer a high-quality service learning project to implement classroom concepts in the real world.

“A service learning project takes time and planning; however, the experience and life-long memories these students will take home with them is invaluable,” said Michelle Biodrowski. “These events get new Iowans involved in habitat restoration, and it shows how much our young citizens can accomplish with guidance and encouragement.”

Luke invited LaGrange to host the “Junior Foresters: Service Learning” event on her land to share ecosystem management concepts with the community through student engagement. LaGrange wanted to help others appreciate these natural areas and take action to better manage our land. She struggled with the eroded slope for decades and now refers to it as her own private park. She eagerly looks forward to seeing the wildlife and pollinators which will come to the native plants which the Junior Foresters will help establish.

“I want the kids to learn to appreciate and respect our environment,” said LaGrange. “It’s great to watch things grow and kids do need outside activity. It is wonderful exercise to plant and breathe in fresh air. This can be an opportunity for helping others and to experience satisfaction in serving as they help establish the woodland savanna. I am excited to have them come to my property.”

During the service learning project, students got to observe and explore the urban woodland restoration. They also got to perform a kid-friendly management activity — participate in and learn about phytoremediation — a process in which certain plants (members of the genus Salix or willows) uptake hydrocarbon pollution from the soil and store it in their shoots/stems. They were trained by high school students and other community volunteers on how to correctly plant native shrubs (two different types, live stakes and bare root) in the bottom of the woodland draw.

Then, students took what they learned from LaGrange’s property and went to a different woodland home, owned by the parents of one of their classroom peers. At the home of Marc and Amber Olson of Nevada, they split up into teams to work together to observe how they could make the land better by reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, managing wildlife habitat and creating recreation opportunities.

This day of learning was the second of its kind for the organizers, Hamilton said. “The theme for our multi-age program this school year is ‘Branching Out’ — this is a great way for us to learn and tackle a real-world environmental issue. We want kids to be empowered to make a difference — to be world-changers.”

The Junior Foresters: Service Learning project, “Urban Woodland Slope Restoration,” is sponsored by the Iowa Prairie Network, and was organized by Central Elementary School and Prudenterra. It was made possible by multi-age students and teachers at Central Elementary, and volunteer work by Luke Gran and other staff members at Prudenterra, and the landowners. Funding was provided by Trees Forever and the Central Elementary Enterprise Fund.