Dater Montessori School Wetland

Wetland plant ecologist Julie Nieset coordinated construction of a small wetland at Dater Montessori Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio. The wetland is a short walk from the school in between the school garden and orchard in an area that was previously mowed lawn. 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 vital educational tool for the students and school staff. Due to various donations (see listing below) the wetland was constructed at no cost to the school. Current opportunities exist for similar projects to be completed at other venues. Please contact Julie Nieset to discuss possibilities.

School wetland at Dater Montessori School

The construction process was used as teaching tools for students. During the day of construction students rotated between five stations, one of which was the wetland construction. Fourteen classes consisting of 15-30 students were in the rotation which involved preschool through sixth-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.

Wetland plant and seed watering continued every couple of days until the wetland had enough hydrology which took several good rainstorms before having permanent water. 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.  Students grow additional wetland plants to supplement those seeded and planted. The school has all-day events for all the classes at Dater Montessori to become acquainted with the schools’ nature center, including the wetland.  As part of a “Powered by Nature” summer camp students from five Montessori schools in the area (ranging from ages 5 to 17) study macroinvertebrates and plants within the wetland as well as wetland ecology.

Volunteers for the success of wetland construction and utilization in ongoing educational activities includes Susan VonderHaar Dater Montessori School Nature Center Coordinator, Beth Schnell Dater Montessori School Principle, Tom Biebighauser 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, Oxbow Inc., Cincinnati Kiwanis Club, and a private donor. In-kind donations included Hamilton County Park District Shaker Trace Seed Nursery for the 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.

An immense shout-out to Tom Biebighauser, formerly with USFS, for inspiration and from his knowledge and commitment in constructing vernal pools and school wetlands throughout the United States, and to Susan VonderHaar for her steadfast commitment to offering outdoor learning spaces for students to learn. The following pictures show the process and educational events on the day of construction as well as some pictures as the plants and aquatic life filled the wetland.