School rain garden helps fight 'NDD' -- Nature Deficit Disorder

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comApril 25, 2013 

A rain garden will be unveiled at Bluffton Middle School today to serve as a model for water conservation.

It's not a big pond, but its lessons should send ripples throughout Beaufort County.

"Kids are learning how we have to differentiate water usage," said science teacher Lois Lewis.

The rain garden -- and the landscaping that will soon surround it -- is fed by rainwater captured from the roof in a barrel.

Lewis said one lesson is that "we should not take water we have spent large sums of money on so we can drink it and bathe in it, and then put it on our lawns."

Students also are learning the need to slow stormwater runoff before it gushes into the May River or Colleton River, carrying with it pollutants from impervious surfaces.

Adult developers, engineers and planners in low-lying Beaufort County should already have mastered that lesson, but they haven't.

Lewis, a Beaufort County teacher for 28 years, has won the Sue West Educator of the Year award and was chosen as Conservationist of the Year in 2006 by the S.C. Wildlife Federation.

She battles a growing problem of children suffering from what she calls "NDD" -- Nature Deficit Disorder.

"I'm always trying to get kids outside," she said.

People used to basically live outdoors, she said, but now children sit inside and stare at a monitor: a cellphone, television or computer.

"Our kids are missing out," she said.

A grant of $1,400 for the rain garden came from Greening Forward, based near Atlanta. Its CEO is 17 years old. Charles Orgbon III founded it when he, too, was in middle school. Now Greening Forward has awarded small grants totaling about $100,000 to help young people improve the environment.

The school PTO helped, along with school district engineers and principal Pat Freda. And on this morning, student council leaders will celebrate Earth Day by transferring native plants into a small pond with an artistic fountain.

Later, they will lead tours of what will become part of an outdoor classroom, which got a head start with help from Lowe's.

"I want people to know we can live in a better world with less pollution," said student council president George Weisner, who will turn 13 on Saturday.

The project also involved art students, led by artist Amos Hummell and art teachers Jill Foreman and Ryan Kennedy. It was aided by the Island School Council for the Arts.

Expertise on the native plants came from Daniel Payne of Naturescapes Nursery on Coosaw Island. The plants came from the Spring Island Trust Native Plant Project.

The rain garden complements the school's nature trail built by Eric Greiner as an Eagle Scout project.

When the students go outside, Lewis said, they can see an active red-shouldered hawks' nest, Gulf fritillary butterflies in the passion vines, and jack-in-the-pulpit plants blooming.

Maybe the rain garden will help the NDD generation care more for their own little corner of the Lowcountry.

Maybe they can lead more adults to do the same.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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Greening Forward

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