BROKEN ARROW — Before they could pronounce her seaworthy, Sarah Leger and Maci Jones decided their vessel needed one final addition.
A little more mud.
“Getting down and dirty really helps us learn,” Leger said Thursday afternoon, laughing as she scooped up another handful from the bottom of a pond and applied it to their “floating wetland.”
The mud, she explained, would help anchor the water plants to the surface of the small raft-like structure.
After a few more handfuls, the two Broken Arrow High School seniors were satisfied that the craft was good to go.
The launching could commence.
Part of a new joint conservation partnership between the city of Broken Arrow and Broken Arrow Public Schools, the project should be the first of many to come.
Joining Leger and Jones on Thursday to launch the floating wetland — an occasion that also served to officially launch the program — were many of their classmates, along with city and school officials.
The program, which will involve high school science students and city officials working together, is focusing initially on a large detention pond across the street from the high school at 1901 E. Albany St.
From there, it will target other portions of Broken Arrow’s Upper Adams Creek floodplain for various environmental improvements.
The floating wetland, which was successfully launched onto the pond’s surface, is a prototype of a much larger one that students will create.
As water drains into the detention pond, it brings in pollutants. The floating wetland will help counter that by supplying more oxygen, said Leger, who is taking AP environmental science.
“It will be good for the fish,” she said.
Future projects may include more floating wetlands, as well as rain gardens, cascade aerators, fountains, nature preserves, walking trails and ecologically friendly vegetation.
The end result of all this, city officials hope, will be a healthier ecosystem at the site, improved water quality in the stream and a corridor that’s more accessible to the public.
City Manager Michael Spurgeon said of the program, “We want to create something that is useful for the students at Broken Arrow High School and beneficial to the public in general while at the same time fulfilling our obligation to control stormwater runoff and protect property within the watershed.”
As for the potential payoff for students, school officials are enthusiastic.
Donna Gradel, a Broken Arrow environmental science teacher who is also the 2018 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, said: “I am thrilled about this collaboration. … It provides students an opportunity to utilize STEM knowledge in a hands-on, exploration type of setting while they get to help solve real-world problems in their community.”
Students and city staff are developing a plan for the affected land and expect to begin implementing it in the spring. They will then continue improving and maintaining the area in the years to come.
Superintendent Janet Dunlop said, “A major benefit of the program will be to provide our students, the future leaders of our community, the opportunity to help plan what we want our community to become — a more ecologically conscious and environmentally sustainable community. This is true empowerment,” she said.
Broken Arrow officials say the program could serve as a model for other district schools.
Hands-on outdoor projects such as the “floating wetland” make an impression, said Jones, who like Leger was dressed in waders for the launch.
Not to discount classroom time, she added, “but we will definitely remember this.”