El Camino Creek, Flora Vista students break ground on stormwater project

Dozens of Encinitas Unified School District (EUSD) students recently broke ground on an environmental project that began three years ago.

The fifth- and sixth-grade student interns from El Camino Creek and Flora Vista elementary schools -- dressed in orange hard hats and bright safety vests -- presented their projects aimed at helping the environment and reducing stormwater pollution on March 29 and 30.

These projects were designed by students as part of the 2014 Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), an annual yearlong, science-based program, which guides fifth and sixth grade students to produce a SWPPP plan for their school site. The interns put the projects together well enough to earn the large Drought Response Outreach Program for School (DROPS) grant from the California Stormwater Quality Association, worth $700,000.

Though the SWPPP Internship Program is being offered at all nine EUSD schools, the students at El Camino Creek and Flora Vista were the first to break ground on their projects.

Bill Dean, the SWPPP internship founder and principal, said he was proud of how far the children have come in learning about and working on this effort.

"Our first group of 14 interns at El Camino Creek began discussing ideas for expensive BMPs that would work at their school site," Dean said in a statement. "Today, those ideas are becoming reality. It has been thrilling for me to accompany these interns on this real world journey of installing a bioswale with rain tanks in order to improve water quality while saving water. The interns worked with the surveyor, the civil engineer, the landscape architect and the contractors. And now they will watch the project be constructed."

Contractors will begin installing several bioswales -- or drainage retention areas -- on the campuses over spring break. New rain barrels will also collect and store runoff during large storms.

The students -- who often described themselves as "valuable members of SWPPP" in speeches -- presented their projects in front of parents, school employees and Encinitas and Carlsbad city officials at groundbreaking events March 29 and March 30. The students also dug into the schools’ lawns with shovels to symbolize the groundbreaking.

"I think SWPPPs a great thing, and we can really help the environment when we do it," said Jack B., a fifth grader at El Camino Creek at the school's assembly on March 29. "It just helps everybody around us, makes the ocean cleaner, saves animals, keeps the beaches open for people and keeps the drains clean. ... It's scary that the ozone can be destroyed."

The kids said they recognized the value of their work and how their efforts will positively impact the environment.

Wyatt L., a fifth grader at Flora Vista, said he hopes to benefit vegetation through this project.

"This project will be great for the environment because all of the plants will take all the pollution out of the water so only clean water will go into the parking lot drain," he said in a statement after the school's assembly on March 30. "If we didn't have this project, all the yucky, polluted water would go down the drain and harm all of the ocean animals and pollute the ocean."

El Camino Creek Principal Jodi Greenberger said she has enjoyed watching the children learn and grow with this project.

"Educationally, this is hands-on learning at its best," she said. "Just to see what they've done as far as their communication skills and collaboration is incredible. What they are doing for our school and for the community is even more amazing. To see their passion for the environment and environmental stewardship is incredible."

Lina T., a fifth grader at El Camino Creek, said she was excited to take a project like this on at such a young age.

She wants to inspire other kids to do their part to help the environment.

"Overall, it doesn't really matter about your age," Lina said in a statement. "If you want to make a difference, and you believe in it and get help from your school, you can really make a difference if you just really put your effort into it."

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