The Alliance is proud to announce that we have been awarded the Best Urban Best Management Practice in the Bay Award (BUBBA) from the Chesapeake Stormwater Network (CSN). Our ongoing efforts to install and maintain a reforestation project at Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary School (LHJ) in Richmond, VA has been recognized (thanks to everyone who voted) as the top urban BMP in the Bay this year! This top honor is tied to a $5,000 prize which will be put directly back into the space.

The BUBBAs recognize the best urban stormwater practices and programs in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The goal of the BUBBAs is to celebrate innovative techniques in stormwater management, share these techniques with others, and promote interactivity amongst CSN’s 11,000 stormwater professionals.

Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary School Reforestation Project

In 2022, Lois Harrison-Jones Elementary School (formerly John B. Cary Elementary) was named one of 27 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools. This Green Ribbon School recognition came after our two-year partnership with the school. It’s a partnership that began in February 2020 when the Alliance was fortunate enough to connect with LHJ’s Principal, Michael Powell. The Alliance’s RiverWise Schools team took action and applied for a Conserve the Future Fund grant through the Community Foundation for Greater Richmond, with matching support from Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities, to create a reforestation project.

A small group of people gardening on a sunny day.

Neal Friedman (foreground) and community volunteers using newspaper and mulch layers to protect trees and shrubs on May 16, 2023.

Designed by partner, Manchester Gardening, the reforestation project serves as an outdoor learning space for students, a gathering place for staff, and a neighborhood amenity for the surrounding community. Each section of the reforestation project was placed with intentionality to demonstrate the different periods of time as a forest matures. The 15,000 square foot project has added 34 trees, more than 284 native plants and a meadow to what was previously an empty lawn. On rainy days, students can observe how the area functions to slow stormwater runoff from nearby sports fields or on sunny days measure the difference in surface temperature between the reforestation area and the blacktop. The space offers students a real-life climate solution that is functioning to offset the effects of urban heat island at their school.

Maintenance of the area has been facilitated by the Alliance, Manchester Gardening, HandsOn volunteers, LHJ PTA, and most recently, Dominion Energy volunteers. Last fall, with on-the-ground support of Dominion Energy and community members, an additional 18 native shrubs and trees were planted, and have continued to be maintained during our spring season. The space now includes sweetbay magnolia, loblolly pines, two bald cypress and a circle of oak trees known as a “tree ring.” Once the oak trees mature, the tree ring will have seating and act as a shaded gathering area for classes to meet.

A group of people posing and smiling with gardening equipment.

Dominion volunteers stand with Alliance staff and Principal Powell after a successful work day at LHJ on October 28, 2022.

In only three years, the forest succession has become clearly visible. Native trees show strong signs of growth, birds, butterflies and bees are plentiful, and parents have begun to use the area as an after school gathering place where they wait to pick up their children. So, the garden is working as intended, creating a community space, a thriving habitat, and absorbing pollutants!

Spring 2023 Updates

Spring is when the reforestation project comes to life and is a great time of year to involve students. In late February, fourth graders participated in the perennial cutback of plants. In April, first graders used measurement and estimation to gather data about trees. A week later, third graders got their hands “dirty” being soil explorers and discovered “What lives underground at LHJ?” The soil lessons were a part of a new collaboration between third grade teachers – Mrs. Mosley-Woodfolk and Ms. Sickinger – Meredeth Dash, Alliance’s Environmental Education Specialist, and Kathryn Lanouette, William & Mary School of Education, who has a special interest in data science education and place-based learning.

Left: a close up of a student with tweezers and a container of soil, right: a student with a clipboard

Third graders became “Soil Explorers” using soil directly from the reforestation project site for a three-day lesson series in April 2023.

Regular maintenance of this space is critical to its success. In fact, on a beautiful sunny day in May, maintenance was a key point discussed during a tour of the project with the board members of the Community Foundation, the organization that originally funded the project in 2020. Board members heard from the Alliance about the history of the project and then from Principal Powell on his perspective as the leader of the school. Principal Powell shared, “The Virginia Standards of Learning represent the foundation… but it’s the real world, outdoor learning that brings learning to fruition and beyond.” We are thrilled that our partnership with Principal Powell and this award-winning outdoor space will help students continue to see the natural world as a place where they are welcome to learn and grow.

A person talking to a group of people outdoors.

Alliance’s Virginia Green Infrastructure team giving a maintenance update to Principal Powell (in red) and Board members from the Community Foundation on May 18, 2023.

If you’d like to contribute to this exciting project, join us on Saturday, June 3, for our next garden cleanup at LHJ to refresh the area. Participants should come prepared to plant native plants, weed, mow, prune, and spread mulch!