Grasses in Classes is a hands-on science program that Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) provides for local elementary schools in Okaloosa and Walton counties.
- What began nearly 15 years ago as a small education program in just three schools has blossomed into a robust learning curriculum across dozens of schools.
Talking to Get The Coast at Florida Park in the City of Valparaiso, Alison McDowell, Executive Director of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, explains the restoration program that is taking place at the park.
“There was a lot of erosion here, so it was an ideal place to plant the smooth cordgrass with the kids,” she explained. “Cordgrass is a shoreline grass that helps hold down the shoreline and prevent erosion. In the beginning, we planted around either side of the boat ramp where there was a lot of erosion, but because there is so much wave energy here, we decided to put in oyster reef breakwater.”
McDowell explained that by planting the grass behind the reefs, they not only slowed down erosion, but reversed the erosion and built up additional shoreline at Florida Park.
Year after year, kids from schools around Okaloosa and Walton Counties visit parks and plant shoreline grasses to help slow down erosion and provide habitat for a lot of critters in Choctawhatchee Bay.
Education Program Manager for the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, Amanda Briant, explained the 3 major points they teach students when it comes to planting the smooth cordgrass.
- Creating a habitat for lots of critters – Over 85% of critters that are commercially harvested start off somewhere in a bay like Choctawhatchee Bay.
- Help prevent erosion: Wave energy and boat wake can wash away the shoreline, so the grasses are holding the shoreline in place.
- Help filter and absorb pollution that could get into the Bay from stormwater runoff.
“The Grasses In Classes program is really the flagship of our CBA education efforts,” added McDowell. “It’s a very popular program and we reach a lot of kids. The schools want to participate each year, but strangely it’s one of our most underfunded programs.”
McDowell says that CBA set up an adopt-a-school program where they requested sponsorships from the community. This led to the current partnership with Okaloosa Gas.
“Okaloosa Gas agreed to sponsor one of our classrooms, and because Lewis School is so close to their offices, we hooked those two up together,” she added. “Okaloosa Gas has generously been providing funds for Lewis to fully participate in the program, to bring in all the lessons and materials for the lessons, and to give them the full experience of the field trips here at Florida Park.”
“Kids really want to help,” added Amanda Briant. “They want to be a part of something bigger than they are and you can see it in their eyes; they’re just amazed at what’s around them.”
Briant added that some of the students have never been to parks that they are helping restore, even if the parks are just down the street from where they live.
“The fact that they’re able to help and actually be part of the restoration is huge,” she added. “It really touches their heart in a way that being in the classroom just can’t do.”
To learn more and to get involved, visit basinalliance.org.