For the past few years, staff at the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Wrightsville Beach office have worked with students at Lake Forest Academy in Wilmington to help increase their exposure to nature and wildlife in the area. AmeriCorps member Kate Conery is currently conducting some stormwater and salt marsh lessons with the students.

“In the past, we’ve led a number of different programs, each touching on a slightly different subject. The students learned about stormwater runoff, rain gardens, salt marshes and marine debris,” Conery said. “This year is unique because instead of touching on many different subjects, we’ve narrowed in on stormwater runoff for kindergarten through fifth-grade and focused on salt marshes for middle school students.”

Students at Lake Forest Academy have gone on field trips and to lessons at the federation’s Fred and Alice Stanback Coastal Education Center in the past, and they hope to again this year.

Lake Forest Academy is a nontraditionaI alternative school that is part of New Hanover County Schools. According to its website, the school tries to intervene early to help “students with mental health disabilities, (students who are) are victims of abuse and neglect and students in crisis” whose symptoms “generally manifested in poor behavior resulting in missed instructional time.”

Larry Hedrick, a middle grades teacher at the school, said students enjoy the lessons and the fact that they get to spend some time outdoors.

“The students have learned to witness firsthand at how protecting our planet is of the utmost importance. Many of these children have also benefited from the overall mental rewards of relaxing in nature while building a personal connection and responsibility toward the environment,” he said. “When the federation is set to come provide their enriching lessons, the students don’t want to miss it and are sure to remain cognizant and reflective of their behaviors in order to attend.”

Conery said that during this year’s lessons, she has been impressed by how much information students have retained.

Elementary school students are learning terms like stormwater runoff, pervious, impervious, native plant, habitat and more. They’ve gotten to pretend to be stormwater engineers and design their own rain gardens. They’ve also played stormwater hopscotch, where they pretend to be a raindrop headed to a local waterway.

Middle school students are focusing on salt marshes. Conery brought a habitat model to observe, and they learned about the different zones of a salt marsh, as well as about the various ecosystem services this important habitat provides. Students paired up and taught each other about salt marsh organisms, many of which have made interesting survival adaptations.

“It was a great way to highlight the importance of protecting these environments as well as developing the communication skills necessary for speaking in front of the room,” Conery said.

Conery said the middle grades students will hopefully take a field trip to Carolina Beach State Park for a marine debris cleanup this spring. The elementary students will be visiting the Coastal Education Center for a touch tank activity to see firsthand what they’ve been learning.