LAUREL HILL — Marsh grass is growing in Laurel Hill, but it has nothing to do with saltwater intrusion. Instead, it's a fifth-grade project called Grasses in Classes.
Under the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance program, students from Laurel Hill School, Antioch and Riverside Elementary Schools are tending large flats of smooth cordgrass, a marsh grass used in erosion control.
The hands-on program "gives students a direct role in the restoration of Choctawhatchee Bay," the alliance's website states.
The alliance provided the schools with equipment and materials required to grow the shoreline grass, Laurel Hill School fifth-grade teacher Deborah Welsh said.
"The kids are learning the importance of keeping the bay and tributaries clean," she said. "They're learning about the ecosystem."
Since October, alliance education coordinator Brittany Tate has taught a monthly class at the schools in conjunction with the project.
"It really jolts their excitement in science," Tate said. "They can apply what they learn in the classroom and see that science has real-life applications."
The students carefully monitor their cordgrass’ progress. Laurel Hill fifth-graders Charley Beck, Spencer Whitten, Logan Lowery and Noah Heath inspected the flats on a recent morning.
"Once a month or so we add salt," Logan said. "We check the salinity regularly."
Recently, Charley discovered mosquito fish swimming around the grass had laid eggs. He and Spencer pulled out their cell phones to take photos of the fish and eggs to show their teacher.
At the end of the month, students will transplant their cordgrass at a Choctawhatchee Bay restoration site. They also will tend to oyster reefs, which, along with the grass, help combat shoreline erosion.
"It's all part of a living shoreline project," Tate said. "We really enjoy providing hands-on lessons with the students."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.