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29. Coastal Roots


F. Margret Atkinson, a teacher at the Zachary Community Schools near Lafayette, Louisiana, emailed us in the middle of our research with an invitation to check out a technology bridge project she was working on with her students called “Coastal Roots.”

“Coastal Roots affords the student an opportunity to develop a sense of self-efficacy and the real-world skills of measuring and recording data, organizing resources, and executing plans, to communicate with experts and learn from professionals in a specific academic discipline, to constructively collaborate with peers, and to research independently and develop personal constructs of knowledge, while all the while working towards bettering a local cause that affects the state,” Atkinson told us via email.

Students conducted interviews for their essays via Skype where F. Margret says she was able to see how easy it is to communicate via Skype and how effective it was for the students to do so. “Students have a passion for learning and are comfortable articulating their opinions.” She was inspired to do this by the potential she saw in technology learned at the GameCamp! intensive at LITE in 2009.

“As an educator, I believe in the importance of working to create a different reality, and it is exactly those who are our children who have the greatest power to create the greatest change. When children hear about the difference that other children have made in their communities, it allows for inspiration that cannot be quantified; simply knowing that other children in our school district have worked to effect a change has made my own eighth graders understand their own inherent power differently.”

Kristy Gilpin and Breigh Rainey, two of Atkinson’s fellow teachers at Zachary Community Schools were behind the Coastal Roots concept. They created a series of blogs for the courses:

“Over the course of the last two years, our second and third grade students have worked with the LSU Coastal Roots Program. Coastal Roots establishes school-based nurseries in schools all over coastal Louisiana where students grow native grasses and trees that students plant in restoration sites affected by coastal erosion. There are currently over 40 schools participating in the program across South Louisiana.

“At Zachary Elementary School, our students worked to install the nursery (or canyard) on school property, led all of the students at our school in demonstrations about coastal erosion, assisted each class in planting bitter panicum (a beach grass), cared for the plants throughout the spring and fall while integrating various math and science concepts and planted their grasses on the beaches of Grand Isle, LA. In November 2010, we led 80 elementary school students to Grand Isle, a barrier island in Louisiana that is popular for fishing and tourism. Grand Isle has been hit several times by various hurricanes and is disappearing at an alarming rate. Our students planted the grasses that they grew at school on the beaches, learned about the effects of the oil spill from BP workers on the site and explored a salt marsh. LSU’s Coastal Roots Program is an ongoing project. Once we returned to school, students immediately began the planting process again and will take another crop of grasses to Grand Isle next fall.

“All of these learning activities began before the oil spill occurred in May 2010. Our students were already learning about the Louisiana wetlands, their importance and erosion issues long before the spill. However, the spill accentuated the need for helping to preserve the wetlands. After the spill, our students were devastated and desperately wanted to help! Working with other teachers at our school, the students developed a fundraiser called “Coins for the Coast” in which they raised money to buy soap which would help clean animals affected by the spill. The students also taught all students at our school about the spill and led the students in a demonstration that helped them understand the consequences of the spill.”

Throughout the entire project, the students used technology to document their accomplishments, spread the word about their projects and help other students understand what they were doing. They used digital cameras to take pictures and posted the pictures on a class blog. They created PowerPoint presentations to share with other students. Kristy Gilpin and Breigh Rainey’s class “botanist” recorded the amount of water the plants were receiving each day and documented this in an Excel spreadsheet. Most recently, Breigh and Kristy’s students compiled all of their activities into a digital portfolio that was submitted to Disney’s Project Challenge.

We asked F. Margret if we could include her student’s essays in this report as an example of how technology is used to bridge education. What follows is their story in their words. All of the interviews they conducted were over Skype.

About the author: Rachel H. is a 4.0 GPA student and aspires to establish a pediatric medical practice. She is in F. Margret Atkinson’s literature class in Zachary Community Schools, and wrote this piece as part of a larger unit that reflected activism, a theme found in one of the novels they read in class and then in her piece.

Youth in motion: The Coastal Roots Movement
By Rachel H.

Three young gifted classes, the second, third, and fourth grades of Zachary Elementary and Copper Mill Elementary, will soon embark on a very informative and beneficial experience to help protect Louisiana’s wetlands from further destruction, particularly Grand Isle. The students will be led on a field trip there to participate in various educational activities, but most importantly, they will be planting along the coast of Grand Isle to help buffer the oil spill from the Gulf of Mexico.

Mrs. Gilpin’s second grade class, which is the youngest to take part in the Coastal Roots project, is clearly thrilled about their trip. One of the students, Hannah, said that she was very excited about the trip because she wanted to help stop the land erosion and we think it will motivate other students to help too. Ms. Rainey’s former third graders (now currently in fourth grade at Copper Mill Elementary) also said that they would love to help Louisiana’s coastal wetlands by planting the grasses in Grand Isle.

During a Skype interview with the current fourth grade class, the students explained who all were supporting them in this important decision. “The principal supports us going to help out the Gulf of Mexico from erosion,” stated one of the students, Emmy. Another student, Elise continues, “The second grade teachers and the school district really support the students in their efforts.” Clearly, the students are very motivated not only by their desire to make a difference in our environment, but also by their teachers and other adults. The Coastal Roots Project has a partnership LSU. The Captain Planet foundation helped out the project by rewarding a $1,200 grant to help out the cause.

The children also gave their specific reasons for wanting to help out the cause. Fourth grade student Jamie stated, “We want to plant in an area where everybody can see the progress that we’ve made and make them want to make a change too.” Bria continued, “When we found out about us losing the trees, we had to plant more trees to replace them so they will always be there.” Samuel added, “We want to rebuild the wetlands from all of the damage that they received during the hurricanes.” Elise also adds, “It’s important to save the wetlands because we want them to be there when we have kids.” Even though the fourth grade students will not be actually participating in the field trip, as they have moved on to another school, they still feel strongly about how important and relevant it is to them, too.

Even though there were a few obstacles along the way, the children are determined to make a difference in Louisiana’s environment. It was said by one of the teachers that out of 1,000 grass seeds to be planted, only about half of them stayed alive (even though it is quite a challenge to sustain the plants, the children and teachers still press restlessly towards their goal.)

In addition to planting the grasses, the students will also participate in a nature walk and get to actually contribute to cleaning up the oil spill. These students are learning early how kids cans make their voice be heard through action.

Coastal Roots: Keeping Our State the Way It Is
Lilly W.

As everyone in Louisiana knows, the Gulf of Mexico has just been through a terrible accident−an oil spill in the spring of 2010. Although scientists say that the worst is over, many beaches and wetland areas are still off limits to the public; however, there is hope. At Zachary Elementary and Copper Mill Elementary, second, third, and fourth graders are doing more than most of us have during the actual cleanup. They, along with other students in Louisiana, are replanting areas where land loss is a great possibility. Even though the fourth graders will not be participating this year, they did last year. During their trip, the second and third graders will go to Grand Isle, Louisiana.

When asked about what the coastal Roots Project was all about through a Skype interview, Hannah, a third grader in Mrs. Rainey’s class, stated, “Our Coastal Roots Project is about us getting soil and plants to plant on the beaches.” Olivia, a second grader in Mrs. Gilpin’s class, said that they were participating in this project, “…to replant the wetlands.”
“We aimed to stop the land from eroding,” was a response by Landon in second grade for the question, “What are you doing that is so helpful to that ecosystem?” Another was by a third grader, Jeffery, when he said that they were trying to stop land loss. Then, an additional third grader, Cecilia, affirmed that she wanted to stop their state from eroding. Bria, a fourth grader said, “When we found out that there were not any plant life left on the beaches, we decided to act.” The last response was from one other student in fourth grade by the name of Samuel who said, “We wanted to rebuild the wetlands because when a hurricane comes, we could have barrier−the wetlands−to slow it down.” An extra answer came from William in third grade when he said, “Scientists believe that by the year 2020, much more land will be lost from Louisiana’s wetlands.”

The students had several organizations and other people helping them. Second grader Presleigh and fourth grader Emmy both answered that the principal, Mrs. Jennifer Marangos, helped them. An additional fourth grader, Shelby, stated, “The second and third grade teachers helped us a lot.” “We got two grants,” was third grader Ava’s response. To elaborate on Ava’s answer, Mrs. Gilpin affirmed by saying, “The Captain Planet Foundation grant was for $1200, and it covered the irrigation system, fencing, etc. The only thing it doesn’t cover is who does the work because the kids do that.”
Since they are starting to bloom in activism, “Why do people need to know about this project?” was an obvious question to ask them. Katy’s response was, “People need to know about this because we want to stop land loss and spread awareness to people who don’t really know much about it.” In third grade also was Celeste, who retorted, “Everyone needs to help their environmental ecosystem by doing whatever they can.” Hannah stated that they learned so much about Grand Isle, and they want other kids to learn, too.

They had some struggles, but the largest struggle seen by the students and teachers alike was that they planted one thousand grass nodes, but only five hundred survived.

On the actual trip, all of the students who were going were not going to work together, but they were split into three groups. While one group was planting grass, the others were taking a nature walk. The remaining children were learning about the oil spill.

These elementary students have done more help than some people have done for the wetlands. If more people were half as enthusiastic as they were, much more of the wetlands would have been helped by now.

“The Salvation of Our Coast- The Coastal Roots Project”
Amber R.

On November 16, 2010, Ms. Rainey’s former third grade class at Copper Mill Elementary School was interviewed via Skype on their Coastal Roots project, and their field trip to Grand Isle. This project was started in the spring of 2009 by Ms. Rainey’s and Mrs. Gilpin’s now fourth grade class, and it includes second through fourth grade. “We wanted to replant our wetlands after the damage from the oil spill,” said Olivia. The Coastal Roots project was formed to conserve and save Louisiana’s wetlands.

Once they did the research, and found out background information about the project, Ms.Rainey’s and Ms. Gilpin’s class was set to help. Their focus was to cease land loss, and add on to the habitats of residing animals. They were supported by all of the students involved, teachers, and their principal. Two grants were written for $2500, most of which were start up costs. “We used five hundred dollars for plumbing,” says Mrs. Rainey. The larger grant actually came from Dr. Blanchard and Dr. Bush at Louisiana State University.

Even younger children have joined in to help, such as Mrs. Gilpin’s current second grade class, who just recently joined in the project. They planted about 1,000 grass nodes, and Cypress trees. Their class received a grant from The Captain Planet Foundation of $1,200 to go on a field trip to Grand Isle to plant them there.”By planting botanical grasses,” says Cecilia, “we can keep the land from eroding.”

With this project they take pride in, and so do their parents, peers, and the school board. Their hope is to continue their job, and inform even more children, or even adults about the project. This could get people to realize that this is a fun experience, and it’s something done in an effort to aid the entire state of Louisiana as well.

Young Roots, Future Trees
Kyle S.

Zachary Louisiana – Louisiana’s wetlands are disappearing every day. Hurricanes will become worse, and the nation will lose a major resource of seafood with the loss of the wetlands. Is anyone even trying to save our wetlands? Actually there is help, but from a much unexpected source- children. The students from Zachary Elementary School and now Copper Mill Elementary are saving Louisiana from disaster. Their project? Coastal Roots. Their goal? To make the world a better place.

As best a 4th grader can put it “It’s important… we have to save our wetlands, and preserve our soil,” Madelyn said. They also made the point of our wetlands act as a buffer zone for many horrific hurricanes. The wetlands are also disappearing at an alarming rate. The wetlands are important to Louisiana and the country, but how long will they last?
These kids aren’t alone in this effort though. When asked during an entire class Skype interview where the students have received support from, a young lady, Elise answered, “Yes, the people do support us.” The class said they received support from 2nd and 3rd graders, and also the school staff.

With permission from the principal, “We put plants in an open area”, a young activist, Jamie recalls. The 3rd and 2nd graders’ teachers, Mrs. Kristy Gilpin and Ms. Breigh Rainey, also wrote a few grants for a trip to Grand Isle. One of LSU’s grants was worth $2,500. Another grant, from the Captain Planet Foundation, was worth $1200. This money was used for fencing, irrigation, and materials for the restoration project in Grand Isle. William, a third grader at Zachary Elementary expressed his reason for going to Grand Isle, “We can help people living there by giving them land”.

Why should we send a bunch of second and third grade children on an expensive trip to Grand Isle, many people might wonder. Well, the students can give you a few good answers to that. One of the students in the class answered that the people at Grand Isle will lose their homes if no one acts to save the wetlands. On the field trip, the students will plant plants, and build irrigation systems for the plants. In addition to this, the children will be switching out through the tasks of planting and cleaning up the oil on the beaches. These students are true young activists.

“Coastal Roots: Children Saving Their Wetlands”
Yara H.

Zachary, Louisiana – At Zachary Elementary School in Zachary, Louisiana, a gifted second grade class are striving to save their wetlands. Their project is called Coastal Roots. Last year, they planted and grew bitter panicum and cypress trees. When interviewed via Skype, Ms. Breigh Rainey’s class explained that they were going to go to Grand Isle, Louisiana, on Thursday, November 18, to plant their vegetation. When asked about Coastal Roots, third grader Hannah replied, “We are taking soil and plants to plant on beaches in the wetlands. Another student answered, “We are going to Grand Isle to plant on the sand dunes because they have a strong root system.” They are working in partner with Louisiana State University with Dr. Blanchard and Dr. Bush. For funding, they wrote two grants. One Ms. Rainey submitted for $2,500 and their principal, Mrs. Marangos, gave them $500 for plumbing. “Most of the costs were start-up costs,” explained Ms. Rainey.

When Mrs. Kristy Guilpin’s class was interviewed, second grader Olivia answered to the question of what they hope to achieve with, “We want to replant the wetlands after the damage from the oil spill.” Cecelia, another student, replied, “Our goal is to stop land form eroding.” When asked if they are looking forward to the planting of their cypress and bitter panicum, Jada replied, “Yes, we want to stop land sinking and we want the plants in the wetlands to survive.” She also told us about their struggles and obstacles when trying to achieve their goal. She said, “Some of our plants are dying, but not a lot.” Mrs. Guilpin added, “We planted one thousand grass plugs. About one half survived.” They wrote the second grant to the Captain Planet Foundation. This $1200 helped to provide for fencing, irrigation, and other materials.

Last year’s third graders played a large role in the first year of Coastal Roots and its development and these students were interviewed via Skype also. Now fourth graders at Copper Mill Elementary School in Zachary, Louisiana, they are still concerned about Louisiana’s wetlands and love involving themselves as much as possible in Coastal Roots. When asked about the people who helped, student Shelby replied, “Some teachers and some second grade teachers and classes helped us.” Lynndon answered, “We interviewed people and they helped us with the pots and watering the plants. When asked about support within the school district, another student, Elise, said, “The district thinks it’s very good for us to get involved. The class unanimously agreed that Louisiana and its residents need protection from hurricanes and any other natural disasters that may occur; therefore, Louisiana’s citizens need to raise awareness and promote the conservation of Louisiana’s wetlands. One student, Paige raised a good point, “We still want to save the wetlands [even though we are in fourth grade] so they stay for us and our kids.”

Other schools all over Louisiana are participating in similar projects, as they are all under the same organization, but in different regions of the wetlands, not just Grand Isle. It is incredible that just one small group can make such a big difference.


Coastal Roots
Sophia N.

Land loss makes people all around the world wonder what will happen. “Scientists predict that in 2012 there will be a wipe-out from land loss,” William, a young third-grader, stated during a class Skype interview. The students in Ms. Rainey’s and Mrs. Gilpan’s class want to make a difference for that projected land loss. William, Hannah and their fellow classmates joined Coastal Roots Project, so they can educate others about this problem. Why would they want to do this?

“In order to create a seedling nursery, we have a soil and plant nursery at our school,” Hannah stated. Ms. Rainey added, “We will be going to Grand Isle State Park to plant grass on the sand dunes. The grass has a very strong root system.” The teachers prepared over a thousand plant nodes and managed to get over half of them ready for planting. They had been working restlessly on this project. “We are trying to stop erosion,” stated Hannah. While they are on Grand Isle, they will be split up into three groups. The first group will be taking a nature walk; another will be planting the grass, while the third will be helping to clean up the oil spill. Then they will switch. “We are doing this to spread Louisiana’s awareness,” Katy said. Why are they so concerned?

Celeste (a third-grader) said that they want to stop the land from eroding. Also, she stated, “We want to help nature and the ecosystem.” Jada added that our land is sinking and they want it to survive. Jeffery also stated that Grand Isle is a wetland that they are trying to save. Will and Hayden both agreed that land loss is a major problem and wanted to delay scientist’s predictions of this catastrophic loss of land. Daniel said, “It’s very important to conserve, and to get protection from hurricanes.”The kids all believe that it is an obligation to save our wetlands after all of the damage. Maddie wants to help Louisiana after all that it’s been through. Carsyn and Bria want to help the trees, plants, and the wetlands since they’ve been washed out. Who could be finically supporting them?

Celeste said that the class is a partner with LSU. Shelby stated,” Teachers, second and third graders, and LSU are helping us.” Emmy and Presleigh added that their principal wanted them to do this to help the planet. One grant came from Captain Planet Foundation. This covered materials and $1200, but the students provide labor force.

Ava said that they are the youngest class involved in Coastal Roots. They are really excited to be contributing to the Earth. They also are excited that the world will get to hear the kids’ voice. This is a state wide project, and their plants will be planted in an open area. Jamie said,” We want people to see our work and that we care.”Olivia is excited to get involved with the oil spill. Also, Elise believes that this is a great idea, not only to be involved, but to make a difference. Hannah stated, “We have learned so much, and we just want the other kids to be able to do this.” The 4th graders are not able to attend this expedition at Grand Isle, but they are thrilled about the concept. In conclusion, the kids just want to promote the idea in order to stop erosion.

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  1. Lilibeth says:

    As a parent of one of those kids, I was impresed by the level of detail and effort that all the children put in this project. Their knowledge of Louisiana’s wetlands is impressive. Their love for our wetlands is amazing and their commitment to help save Louisiana is unique. I was not able to go to Grand Isle to see the final result but I am sure that in future generations they will see the new grass and trees planted for these young kids and we will remember that THEY CARE ENOUGH to take the time to care for our wetlands.

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