New park becomes outdoor lab

Middle school students to study ecosystem of park behind police department

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

No construction was done on the Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School building this summer. But when students return to the school Wednesday, they'll find a new laboratory to help them study wetland ecosystems.

Dzantik'i Heeni teachers and students worked this summer with the nonprofit organization Trail Mix, city engineers and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to turn what once was a gravel pit behind the Juneau Police Department station in Lemon Creek into an outdoor laboratory for students.

"There are all kinds of things you could use this as a lab for," said science and math teacher Paula Savikko, strolling in the newly created park.

Savikko, science teacher Pam Wells and language arts teacher Tonja Moser helped develop the educational component of the park.

The three teachers and several volunteer students planted seeds from all over Southeast Alaska in a roped-off grid in the park. The science teachers hope their students will take an interest in recording which seeds grow in the park and why.

Moser hopes her language arts students will be inspired by the wetlands, a 20-minute walk from the school, to write poetry or short stories. She also may ask students to reflect on responsible stewardship and on the impact of development on wilderness. Students also may write educational brochures for the area.

"The hope was to get the community out and about the police station, so that it wasn't such an isolated building," said Sky Stekoll, project manager for the city's engineering department.

Fish and Wildlife awarded about $58,000 in three grants to the city to create the park. The city matched those grants, and Landscape Alaska designed the new park, Stekoll said. Dave Hanna, a local contractor, moved some top soil and vegetation to the area, and Trail Mix, a trail-building organization in Juneau, built the trails and the deck at the park.

Construction on the area began last summer. The landscaping was given the winter to settle, Stekoll said, before the trail was built this summer.

The teachers and about eight students volunteered on the project for two days.

Colin Flynn, a member of the Hemlock house whose parents made him volunteer, said the work, "Wasn't that bad. It was kind of fun."

He worked with fellow students Caitlyn Lee and Keegan Goodell one day this summer planting seeds.

"They had all these seeds that people collected from Southeast," Flynn said. "We put different seeds in different grids to see how they grow."

Students left one square with no seeds, some squares with a mixture of seeds and other squares with one kind of seed, Flynn said.

Though he's not exactly looking forward to returning to school, watching how the area changes during his eighth grade year will be interesting, he said.

Savikko and other science teachers at the school likely will tailor their lessons to what interests the students, Savikko said.

"We're just going to focus on observations and have kids ask questions about what they're curious about," she said. "If they're curious to wonder whether the pond will freeze, well, what does freezing have to do with - salinity, or maybe oxygen? If kids are interested in birding, we'll send those kids out and have specialists come in and identify what birds are important and why."

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