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Biological Surveys and Assessment Program


Dater Montessori School Wetland Project


Wetland plant ecologist Julie Nieset coordinated construction of a small wetland at Dater Montessori Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio, completed in September 2012.  The chosen area had been selected during a site visit the previous July, and is located a short walk from the school in between the school garden and orchard.  This wetland will serve as an educational tool for students at the school and residents in the community. Educational goals include integrating this habitat into the nature center curriculum. In addition to applying existing curriculum and activities to the wetland, existing curriculum guides such as WOW – The Wonders of Wetlands and POW –The Planning of Wetlands will be utilized.


Students planting wetland plantsThe following plants were planted and watered:  Bidens frondosa, Persicaria hydropiperoides, Hibiscus moscheutos, Lobelia siphilitica, Physostegia virginiana, Chelone glabra. On September 13, 2012, plants planted the previous day were watered and the following wetland plant seeds were sown in the created wetland: Eupatoriadelphus maculatum, Verbena hastata, Carex grayii, Carex hystericina, Alisma subcordatum, Asclepias incarnata, Schoenoplectus tabermontanii, Eupatoriadelphus fistulosum, Scirpus cyperinus, Sida hermaphrodita, Helenium autumnale, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Hypericum punctatum, Spiraea alba, Mimulus ringens, Ludwigia alternaflora, Veronicastrum virginicum, Rhexia virginica, and Carex frankii.  Plant watering continued every couple of days until the wetland had enough hydrology to support them.


Students at a learning stationDuring the day of construction students rotated between five stations, one of which was the wetland.  Fourteen classes consisting of 15-30 students were in the rotation which involved preschool through 6th graders.  At the wetland station, participants watched the excavation process, learned about surveying tools and techniques, assisted with raking of the soil, laying of the liner and geotextile, spread wheat seed and straw for erosion control, helped plant and water the wetland plants, and learned about soil and wetland plant characteristics. Other stations had curricula revolving around wetland fauna such as macroinvertebrates and amphibians, the concept of water infiltration and steps to increase infiltration in an urban environment, water issues such as pollution and fracking, why wetlands are important, and activities of observation and seed collecting at the school prairie.


It was expected that by spring-early summer of 2013 the wetland would start looking like a wetland as the wetland plants established and becoming robust. A number of vegetation goals are in place for the wetland. One of the goals is to keep invasive plants such as Typha spp., Phalaris, out of this wetland. Due to the manageable size of the wetland, this will involve hand-pulling any that grows. Another goal is that a vegetation survey will be done at least once a year to determine the species present. This will also provide data on base management techniques on to optimize plant diversity. Some wetland plant seeds were saved for classes/students to grow to supplement the wetland plant population.


Volunteers included personnel from the U.S. Forest Service, Illinois Natural History Survey, Dater Montessori Nature Center, Friends of Dater Montessori, Browne Mackie College, Mill Creek Council of Communities, Mill Creek Restoration Project, Food and Water Watch, Arts Restoring Culture for Healing Earth, Cincinnati residents, and parents/grandparents of students at Dater. Financial donors included U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cincinnati Kiwanis Club, and a private donor. In-kind donations included Hamilton County Park District Shaker Trace Seed Nursery for a donation of local genotype wetland plant seeds, Keystone Flora and other private donations of local wetland plants, materials from Sheltowee Environmental Education Coalition, and numerous volunteers involved in the coordination and educational components of the project.


2013 Update

The wetland has become an integral part of schools’ nature center, offering teachers an alternative classroom setting and a place to immerse students in nature-based learning.   During spring 2013, students grew additional wetland plants to supplement those seeded and planted Students viewing bug specimens from the Wetland, June 2013during construction.   The school had an all-day event September 2013 for all the classes at Dater Montessori to become acquainted with the schools’ nature center.  The event included time at the wetland where students learned about wetland ecology, made observations about plants, and sampled macroinvertebrates.  


As part of a “Powered by Nature” camp in June 2013, fifty students from five Montessori schools in the area (with students ranging from ages 5 to 17) studied macroinvertebrates within the wetland.  They used dip nets, magnified bug-viewing specimen containers, and microscopes to collect and view specimens.  The survey indicated that just nine months after construction the wetland is supporting a thriving community of macroinvertebrates.   All the indicator species are hardy and pollution tolerant, indicative of a newly constructed environment.  Future studies will include students conducting surveys over successive seasons and years to compare data of macroinvertebrate species over time.


The Dater Montessori Nature Center coordinator, Susan VonderHaar is very thrilled to have the wetland for students at the school as well as nature center camps.   She considers the wetland an important component of the nature center and a useful educational tool for the students and school staff.  She also reports that there has been a recent hire of teacher liaison positions within Dater school’s teaching staff to ensure regular classroom participation in the nature center and wetland for the 2013-2014 school year.  Additionally a sign indicating the wetland is now in place and benches nearby have been installed for visitors to sit and enjoy the space. 


A few more pictures from the project:

Dater Montessori School Wetland