Students Work with County Board on Storm Drain Screen Project

Students from Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, VA are working with the Arlington County Board to place screens on storm drains around Four Mile Run.

Last fall, students investigated the health of Four Mile Run, which is near their school. They were encouraged to discover that, since the 1950s, the health of Four Mile Run has only improved. However, they noticed litter and pollutants such as car batteries, motor oil cans, broken bottles, and rusty metal objects in the water, many of which can give off hazardous toxic chemicals. These objects are especially prominent in Arlington because it is an urban county.


Students understood that the health of Four Mile Run may be better now, but it wouldn’t last for long if pollutants continued to enter the waterway. They decided to research options that would prevent trash from entering the storm drains in the first place. They discovered that Los Angeles had a lot of success using storm drain screens to improve the health of the L.A. River. Students proposed using screens on storm drains surrounding Four Mile Run, specifically focusing on drains that are situated at the bottom of large hills or inclines, to create a barrier between larger pollutants and the waterway.

The students presented their proposal to the Arlington Country Board, asking for an allocation to help make their project a reality. They received accolades for their research into the county’s budget and their rationale around the placement of the screens. One board member asked that the students determine how to measure whether their proposed solution is actually working. Listen to their presentation and the discussion among the board here. (Student presenters are at 32:00-35:00 and County Board discussion of proposal is from 47:30-55:11.)

APS Board Kenmore edited small (1)

The students received some funding from international agriculture company, Agrium, to begin implementing their project and are continuing to work with the school board to improve Four Mile Run.

Summer Reading Recommendations

We’re only a couple of days away from the official start of summer, meaning it’s a great time to pick up a new book. Here are a few recommendations around youth, civic, and environmental engagement. (Thanks to staffers Kurt Moser and Erika Rodriguez for contributing to this list.)

Rambunctious Garden, Emma Marris – A mind-expanding read on what restoration means in the urban setting, especially at a time when there is no facet of our planet that isn’t impacted by human activity.

Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam – While it’s a longer read, Putnam uses data to show how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures– and how we may reconnect.

Mosh the Polls: Youth Voters, Popular Culture, and Democratic Engagement, Tony Kelso & Brian Cogan – An engaging read on the intersection of political engagement and entertainment and how it specifically if affects youth voters.

Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place – An easy reading collection focusing on the idea that human lives are enriched by participation in a social community that is integrated into place-based, natural landscapes.

Becoming Activist: Critical Literacy and Youth Organizing, Elizabeth Bishop – The book follows five New York City youth as their activist identities shift over time in relation to social and economic justice.

A Sand County Almanac – A colorful collection of outdoor essays and reflections that explore the breathtaking diversity of the unspoiled American landscape.

The Riverkeepers, John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. - Heavier on the advocacy, this book tells the story of two citizens who tackle corporate and industrial polluters on the Hudson River. It’s a well-told story that will be especially interesting to environmental law buffs.

Are ‘Resiliency Skills’ the Key to Academic, Career, and Life Success?

This week, I came across an article on NPR about the importance of ‘nonacademic’ skills. These skills have been called/can include 21st century skills, grit, character, growth mindset, noncognitive traits and habits, social and emotional skills, and soft skills. We know these ‘nonacademic’ skills are critical to student success, but the educational community struggles to find an all-encompassing term to explain them.

Several options have been thrown out, including non-cognitive skills, Skills for Success, and Life Skills. I’d like to throw out an additional option: Resiliency Skills.

Reading through the article, I was struck by its alignment to the Earth Force Process and our values as an organization. We strive to prepare youth for a changing climate, and we want them to understand that they can play a role today, tomorrow, and throughout their life in adapting and preserving the environment. When looking at the overall goals of our Process, ‘nonacademic’ skills are absolutely critical when working to support students as engaged and life-long environmental citizens.

Through 15 years of evaluation by the Center for Youth and Communities at Brandeis University, we know that skills like problem-solving, teamwork, and public speaking are essential life and career skills. Being flexible, communicating effectively, and staying positive are also important when working in partnership with the community to develop solutions together.

We see that these skills are learned. Pre-and-post evaluations show that students participating in Earth Force, and likely those in similar programs, show an increase in decision-making skills and the ability to find resources in their community and communicate positions on public issues. They are developing these skills by working directly with the community to solve real issues.

It is important in the development of resilient students that they understand commitment and perseverance. We often say there’s a seventh step in our six-step Process – if they run into challenges after taking action, students must go back and reinvestigate the root cause of an issue. Their ability to stay the course is necessary in order to develop a successful solution.

No matter what we call these intangible skills, they are absolutely essential to building resilient individuals and communities.

Feel free to share your suggestions and thoughts in the comments section.