Instead of just learning about the importance of wetlands to the Texas coastline, middle school students from Allen Academy are doing their part to save the coastal ecosystems.

“It’s really about empowering students to know that they can make a difference,” Allen Academy science teacher Stephanie Hanover said.

For the fifth year, Hanover is taking sixth and seventh grade students from Allen Academy in Bryan to Baytown to collect and later introduce spartina alterniflora, or smooth cordgrass, to saltwater pools in Galveston. The students will be working with the Galveston Bay Foundation in its Get Hip to Habitat program.

Sixth grader Rhett Lambert said since learning about the project, he knew it would be one of the most exciting things he would get to do as part of his science studies.

“It’s a big opportunity, because a lot of schools don’t get to do this,” he said.

Hanover said the students harvest the grass in Baytown, then grow it and take care of it at their Bryan campus, monitoring and tracking the vegetation’s progress and taking care of any diseases.

While in Galveston, seventh grader Rusty Ly-McMurray said, they check the water’s pH levels, the water quality and the organisms that live in the pools.

The process helps give the students a hands-on example of the curriculum they are learning in class, Hanover said.

In sixth grade, the students learn about erosion and landforms and also what it means to be a scientist and get comfortable with the process of collecting, measuring and understanding data. Then, in seventh grade, they go a little deeper into ecosystems and what can affect them, both positively and negatively.

By getting the hands-on examples, Ly-McMurray said, “We better understand how water and erosion affects our land, and what are the most efficient ways of slowing down that erosion using grass and oyster shells and a bunch of other techniques or things, objects that stop the water from flowing onto the land.”

Lambert, who moved to the Brazos Valley from Houston, said he has seen how the lack of vegetation can impact an area, such as more flooding because of an increase in concrete.

His classmate William Rentfro said, “All the manmade solutions, they help temporarily, but after a while it just creates more problems, because even if it stops erosion, then it’s ruining lots of habitats and then all the animals.”

With so many people complaining about pollution and erosion, Rentfro said, not many are actually trying to develop solutions.

“If you want to really save the world, you have to put in hard work,” he said.

Ly-McMurray said the experience has changed the way he looks at climate change, erosion and pollution.

“Before this, I just blew it off. I was like, ‘OK, that’s not my problem,’” he said. “But now this is my problem, and I can be the one who fixes it and we can all be a part of that.”

Fellow seventh grader Lathan Lucas said the experience has taught him how small things can make big impacts on the world.

“We’re seeing all these people in this world make a difference, and now it’s actually our chance to finally do it and starting to make a big difference,” Lambert said.

In middle school, Hanover said, the students’ thinking is not so rigid that their imagination and creativity becomes stunted. It is not about doing things a certain way and not exploring other options.

“It’s about understanding why that works and being creative with new and innovative things for the future, because that’s what they’re going to be doing someday,” Hanover said. “Yes, this is one way that it works, but as our world evolves, we have to evolve with our problem solving and thinking. I’m really excited for the future with these guys taking charge one day.”

The most rewarding thing, she said, is seeing the students get more out of the opportunity than just the science lessons.

“That’s really what it’s all about is the empowerment of learning to make a difference and using the science that we learn in class to do that. … When you actually experience it, it’s completely different than just learning about it,” she said, adding she hopes it is something they take with them beyond middle school.

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