Groundswell: Connecting Students and Stewardship in West Michigan

Imagine students whose classrooms are their communities, who do hands-on projects that demonstrate their important role in creating change right where they live. Picture teachers who can nurture those students because they have the resources and support they need to do this crucial work.

Since 2009, Groundswell has brought this vision alive. We foster a network of teachers and community experts who teach K-12 students about science, math, social studies, and language arts while exploring environmental issues in our community. Students design and complete projects that have a tangible, real-world impact—for example, protecting stream banks by planting native plants, creating habitat for pollinators, and raising awareness about pollution carried by stormwater.

Students learn that their voices and visions matter, that their own actions make a difference, and that by working with others, they can solve problems right where they live.

Students as Changemakers: Examples of Two Projects

At Southwest Community Campus, an urban school located on the southwest side of Grand Rapids, 127 students in 1st grade made a vital connection between the way we grow our food and its impact on our local ecosystem. They learned about plants and grew “microgreens” in trays, an alternative to traditional gardening that uses less water and doesn’t pollute local waterways. After three weeks, the students harvested the greens and enjoyed a tasty treat as their reward. These 1st graders learned the importance of studying options and making good choices, and that every day we have a chance to be stewards of our environment.

Students in Sparta, a community north of Grand Rapids, learned how native plants can hold soil in place and naturally stabilize stream banks. Starting in 2014, they adopted a section of Nash Creek that flows through downtown. Trees had been recently cut down, leaving the soil exposed and the banks at risk of erosion. In the first year, students planted about 3,500 native plants on both sides of the stream bank, with help from a local chapter of Trout Unlimited and several other community partners. The students, are in 3rd through 6th grades, learn how the native plants will help improve water quality and habitat.

Through persuasive letters and short presentations to local government representatives, they also influenced others to help with their restoration project. As a result of this project, local officials asked
students to expand their work to other sections of the creek.

More about Groundswell:

Primarily, Groundswell:

  • Offers ongoing professional development and support for teachers, focused on place-based
  • Provides funding for stewardship projects
  • Provides support for a network of community partners and experts

Groundswell is a regional hub of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, a statewide network to promote place-based stewardship education in Michigan, and the largest effort of it’s kind in the country. We are housed at Grand Valley State University, in the College of Education.