By Melanie Langa
At Community High School, the popularity of new clubs can be determined easily. Good advertising, an enthusiastic leader and engaging meetings are essential to make a club popular. With its clever posters, catchy slogans, and the promise of outdoor activities, the Ecology Club was destined for success.
While many of the club’s activities are meant purely for enjoyment, the club has an important mission: to significantly change the habits of the school and the greater community. And students in the Ecology Club are tackling projects both around their school and in their back yard.
“It is a club for people who are interested in ecology, who want to get outside and be active in the community as well as help make Community High School a greener place,” said science teacher Courtney Kiley, the club’s adviser.
Members are involved with several large, long-term projects including promoting the mission of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy, making Community Green Certified and planting native gardens around the school. As they educate themselves about energy usage, pollution and other issues facing the environment, they are able to teach others.
“Environmental issues are something that are important to me. I feel like there is a lot of talk about humans destroying the earth but not as much action,” said student Shadi Ahmadmehrabi. “So I’m glad to have the opportunity to be part of a group like this.”
The Ecology Club members believe the club can convince Community High School, The Ann Arbor Public Schools and the local community to make more environmentally conscious actions. The club has recently helped to produce a video explaining the mission of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy.
The conservancy is a nonprofit organization that is attempting to establish a series of parks in downtown Ann Arbor. The green spaces would provide a way to walk or bike from the University of Michigan athletic complex to the Argo Dam. According to the City of Ann Arbor’s Allen Creek task force, there has been talk of creating a greenway for nearly 30 years.
The greenway would be situated on the historical route of Allen Creek, which is now is buried in an underground drain and feeds into the Huron River.
It would take shape as a kind of “green infrastructure,” said Margaret Wong, a member of the conservancy. “We have this floodplain and since the real floodplain is a natural system, it’s not going to go away. It needs to really be respected and appreciated,” she said.
Creating a greenway would prevent the creation of impervious services which pollute through storm water runoff. In addition, prohibiting parking lots and other commercial buildings from being constructed would further cut down on pollution.
The greenway is not just a matter of environmental concern. “There’s an urban planning aspect that has major implications to make a place feel beautiful,” said Wong, “There is a social, even cultural, component to why the stream is important. We want to take what you have inherently, and make the most of it.”
Ecology Club members are excited about the prospect of collaboration. “It was great for us to get involved in the community and support a foundation that’s got an important mission,” added Kiley.
“Students here are very strongly minded about what they can do about environmental and political issues,” added junior Michelle Grifka.
Students involved with the project consider the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy goals to be similar to that of the Ecology Club. “We have a common interest in that we are downtown so we care about how beautiful and livable the environment is,” said student and club member Elise Wander.
The conservancy mission also connects with the science program at Community High School. “It relates to our curriculum in FOS I (Foundations of Science One) when we study groundwater, Allen Creek and the Huron River,” said Kiley.
The Ecology Club has been invited to attend an Ann Arbor City Council Meeting on behalf of the conservancy. “I’m excited about going to a city council meeting because I think when people see that students care about these issues enough to speak up they will see how big a deal it is,” said Murphy Austin, a sophomore and member of the Ecology club.
The Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy project is not the only one students are working on.
This year, club members plan to create a native plants garden working with JJR, a landscape architecture firm, to develop a series of gardens around the Community High School grounds. The purpose of the gardens is to “manage runoff and learn why native plants are good,” said Kiley.
The Ecology Club also hopes to become an official Green School through the Michigan Green Schools Recognition Program. To become certified, a school is scored on its ability to reduce, reuse, recycle, and use renewable resources and energy wisely. “It is important for schools and students to be aware of the changing environment and for them to actually do something about it,” said student Emma Hughes.
The certification may lead to further changes at Community. “I’m really excited about becoming green certified and I would like to see us go beyond that and do some things to be more energy efficient like get solar panels,” said Kiley.
While the club has lofty goals, Kiley hopes to attain a more modest personal one. “All I want,” she said, “is to keep kids interested in science.”
Melanie Langa is a staff reporter for the The Communicator Web, the online edition of Community High School’s student newsmagazine.