Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trenton Students and Science Mentors, Healing the Earth and Themselves

Last month, I found myself sitting at a table in the NJ State Museum, with a budding hyacinth for a centerpiece and a conference room full of high school students showing a budding interest in science. This trip to Trenton began with a surprise email that had arrived out of the blue two months prior:

"My Name is Tatyana and I am in a program called Science Mentors where teens are paired with a mentor and come up with a question that they will solve in order to enter their experiment and project into the Mercer Science and Engineering Science Fair. My mentor and I are very interested in the environmental factors of floods and while searching around the Internet we came upon a little information on water gardens. After visiting your blog we found out how knowledgable you are on this topic. Would you be able to meet with my mentor (Lisa Olson) and I in order to give us more information on water gardens and even be able to give us a tour of your water gardens so we could see them in person?"

So Tatyana came up to Princeton with her mentor for a tour of Princeton High School's ecolab wetland (fed by the school's "Old Faithful" sump pump) and the recreated stream corridor in my backyard. That gave her some ideas for two spots in Trenton, one being the empty lot next to her house, which gets lots of sun and could have some water directed to it from nearby roofs. 

The other is an empty field downtown with a river that runs through it. Well, actually, the river is a creek called Assunpink Creek, and it's been flowing underneath the field rather than through it, ever since the creek was buried to make room for urban development. That may change before too long, if plans put together by the city and the Army Corps of Engineers to daylight the creek are finally realized. 

We discussed what would be a good project having to do with raingardens. Identify what plants are growing in the field? Create a small raingarden there? I encouraged Tati and Lisa to consider inventorying the existing raingardens in Trenton, and see how they're doing. There's a great feeling of promise and achievement when a raingarden is planted, but birth is only the beginning. For a raingarden to thrive, it needs periodic infusions not only of rainwater but also of a love that expresses itself in the form of plant knowledge and periodically remembering to stop by to pull a few weeds. 

Science Mentors operates on a similar principal, that kids will thrive if given ongoing attention and caring. "If you have unconditional love, you can achieve anything, " says Maureen Quinn, the nonprofit's leader and soul. It was touching to see science so clearly paired with the healing power of love, and the awareness that one receives through giving. That is, after all, what drives a raingarden, and our lives.

Each student spoke in front of the group, describing their project.

You know, the world doesn't lack for sad stories. In the corridor leading to the museum's conference room, the story is very well told of the loss of the Carolina Parakeet,

and the passenger pigeon.
But those sad endings only make more moving the stories of thriving and renewal, stories that continue to be told through organizations like Science Mentors.

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