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Bristow Elementary Extended Classroom / Vernal Pond

Rain filled pond

Bristow Elementary's Energy Team's goal is to get students out of the classroom to have real-life experiences with scientific material through discovery learning, while saving energy by using outdoor resources.  It is becoming a reality!  We are excited about our newest educational addition...a vernal pond!

Developing a "Disconnected Classroom" is in Progress

Collaborative planning from Melissa  Trent, an Energy Team Sponsor and recipient of the Environmental Education Endorsement from WKU, has started constructed a vision with the support of the faculty, staff and Student Council at Bristow Elementary School.

On October 18th, the pond was installed with the expertise of Wildlife Biologist, Tom Biebighauser, coordinating assistance from Trish Sowell with the Center for Environmental Education and Sustainability at WKU, and the  excavator operator Ken White from Scott and Ritter, Inc., along with a $2,000 grant funded from Sheltowee Environmental Education Coalitions Wetland Restoration Program (SEEC).

"By November 5th the pond was already holding water!  As the pond continues to fill, our team is working diligently to 'ready' the outdoor learning area, which we have named the 'disconnected classroom'," said Melissa. "We have 30 stumps placed near the pond for student seating as they observe the pond.  There is an uprooted tree placed near the pond along with rocks and branches to attract wildlife".

"Recently, the Energy Team was awarded a grant of $3,500 from SCA Personal Care to beautify our disconnected classroom!   With the grant, we plan to build an environmentally friendly shelter for students to observe and record observations, install bird houses with a camera inside one house to record birds and babies; install bat houses and a variety of Kentucky native plants, along with a butterfly garden and rock garden.  Our projected completion for this project is early Spring....and it all started with a vernal pond!", said Melissa.

Below is the link to our WCPS site about the grant we got from SCA

Tom explains, "Vernal ponds are seasonal wetlands that are usually quite small and are covered by shallow water during the wetter part of the year. Climatic changes associated with each season cause dramatic changes in the appearance of and the flora and fauna associated with vernal ponds. Common animals seen at vernal ponds include toads and frogs, salamanders and dragon flies. A variety of bird life is attracted to the pools which are used as a seasonal source of food and water. In many areas, vernal ponds are disappearing due to sprawl patterns of growth, and efforts are being made to protect and restore them, as their disappearance marks the loss of important habitat for associated plants and animals" .

Purpose and Need

Wetlands provide great opportunities for outdoor learning. Students can be taught more about science and mathematics by experiencing lessons firsthand. Wetlands are rare habitats in Kentucky. There are few places available to experience these fascinating ecosystems.

Building a wetland will clean run-off, reduce flooding, and recharge groundwater, thereby benefiting the local community. Wetlands will also increase wildlife viewing opportunities and enhance the beauty of the school property.

The wetland was designed to provide habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, bats, crustaceans, amphibians, and reptiles. The wetland may also provide habitat for less common species such as the spotted salamander, wood frog, spadefoot, and fairy shrimp.

The wetland measuring 30-feet in diameter was built by using a liner to ensure water will be held in the pond. Excess soil was placed on the slopes of the pond to improve student access, and make it easier to mow.

A fallen tree was placed at the edge of the pond to  provide habitat for amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. Native flowering plants will be planted to provide food and shelter for birds, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and insects.

Specifications for Wetland Establishment

The goal of the project is to establish a naturally appearing and functioning wetland that will require little to no maintenance. The wetland was developed by using the techniques described in Wetland Restoration and Construction-A Technical Guide by Thomas R. Biebighauser: http://www.thewetlandtrust.org/wetlandrestorationbook.html

The wetland was marked by using colored plastic ribbons. Soils were shaped into a shallow basin to establish a small wetland approximately 30-feet in diameter. The slopes surrounding the wetland are gradual, 5-percent or less, with water depths of 16-inches or less. The wetland is large enough for 30 or more students to investigate without crowding.

The topsoil was saved and spread following construction. Small dips and piles of soil were placed randomly in the wetland to restore pit and mound topography. The piles vary in size and height and were not compacted so they will grow aquatic plants and trees. Logs, branches, and leaves were added to the wetland to improve habitat for wildlife.

Exposed soils were sown to wheat and mulched with wheat straw. Slopes are kept gradual, and the wetland basin is using a low profile to maintain overland flow.

Contracting & Supplies

Scott and Ritter, Inc., charged a very small fee for the excavator and operator to complete the pond.

A synthetic liner was used to build the wetland, as neither groundwater or clay soils are present on the site. The liner is a PVC, 30-mil, fish-grade & aquatic safe, one piece and factory seamed.

Geo-textile pads were needed to protect the liner. The geo-textile pads are 8-ounce weight, fish-grade and aquatic safe, one piece according to measurements. One was placed under and another over the liner before it was covered with soil. No heavy equipment was allowed to travel over the liner and geo-textile pads. The synthetic liner and geo-textile pads were purchased and sent from Fabseal Industrial Liners, Inc. in Shawnee, OK.

Smooth landscape spikes, 12-inches long, were used for anchoring the top edge of the liners.

Wheat was sown on exposed soils the same day the wetland was completed for controlling erosion. A rain came in that night and saturated the seeds and soil and we had grass the following week. Do not use rye or oats; wheat works best and is non-invasive.

To reduce erosion and to increase plant survival, the outer areas of exposed soil were covered with a layer of wheat seed and straw. Do not use hay as it contains too many weeds that can be difficult to control later.

Spreading straw to cover soil and grass seed.

Escavator digging out area

Ranking out glogs

Unfolding padding

Spreading out the padding

Liner is placed

 Setting spikes to anchor pad and liner to ground.

Hammering the spikes into the ground

Cutting the corners off to make the pond round.

Covering the area with soil.

Spreading grass seed.

Completed project


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 Last Modified 12/4/18