Grasses in Classes celebrates its fifth year of implementation

Special to The Log

The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) of Northwest Florida State College in partnership with AmeriCorps is celebrating the start of its fifth year with the kick off of the 2015-2016 Grasses in Classes Program. This year, CBA will be implementing 21 Grasses in Classes Programs throughout Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Throughout the month of October, CBA and AmeriCorps members will be establishing 63 saltmarsh nurseries with 3rd and 5th graders.

CBA’s Grasses in Classes program is a student-led habitat restoration initiative that gives students a direct role in the restoration of Choctawhatchee Bay. CBA provides teachers in Okaloosa and Walton Counties the equipment and materials required to grow shoreline grasses at their schools. In addition to maintaining salt marsh nurseries, students participate in monthly activities administered by the CBA/AmeriCorps staff. Each lesson is correlated to meet Florida’s educational state standards, while focusing on how shoreline grasses help prevent erosion and provide critical habitat.

Throughout the month of October, students will participate in their first lesson which includes the planting and establishment of the salt marsh nurseries at their individual schools. While planting the smooth cordgrass, students learn how salt marsh plants help sustain the health of the Choctawhatchee Bay. At the end of the year-long program, students will travel to a restoration site along the Choctawhatchee Bay to transplant their matured smooth cordgrass.

“It is great to see students develop an interest in not only science, but in their local environment,” said Brittany Tate, education coordinator for CBA. “Through Grasses in Classes, students become an active part of the Choctawhatchee Bay watershed.”

CBA and AmeriCorps will work with 17 elementary schools in Okaloosa County and four elementary schools in Walton County, reaching close to 2,300 students every month. Through this program, CBA hopes to develop young water stewards, who from a young age, become aware of their local ecosystems.

This year the program is celebrating five years of implementation in Okaloosa and Walton county schools. To date, over 8,000 students have helped to restore the Choctawhatchee Bay by planting 9,000 plants at 10 different restoration sites.