Whalen Pond Neighborhood Ecology Education Initiative
The Whalen Pond Neighborhood Ecology Education Initiative is a collaborative effort that developed organically between the Verona Area School District (VASD), the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison), and the City of Verona Department of Public Works (VDPW). As the name of this effort is meant to imply, there is on-going collaboration between these organizations based on mutual interest in Whalen Pond. Whalen Pond is the colloquial name, whereas the Public Works Storm Water System identifies it as 38 Hawthorne Hills West.
Between 2007 & 2011, teachers across VASD collaborated with researchers at Vanderbilt University and UW-Madison to develop a research-based Ecology Construct, which is a document that lists important benchmarks of children’s thinking as their concepts about ecology, biological and physical science are supported with instruction. Two National Science Foundation (NSF) Grants synergistically supported related projects on: (1) collaborative teacher development to support learning opportunities that encouraged students to grapple over time with large ideas about the natural spaces found in Verona and (2) research on urban water quality and ecosystem health. The work the two grants supported included data collection on the flora and fauna found in and around Whalen Pond as well a water quality data such as dissolved oxygen.
The work VASD students and teachers are doing at Whalen Pond also relate to the Next Generation Science Standards/College Readiness Standards. A third of these standards cover “Science and Engineering Practices.” Appendix A of the Standards state:
“The framework is designed to help realize a vision for education in the sciences and engineering in which students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields.”
Whalen Pond provides a vehicle to reach students in this way and train teachers in this delivery method.
The VDPW has an interest is supporting the on-going use of the Pond as a way to gather long-term water quality data. This long-term data will help VDPW evaluate the effectiveness of the storm water management infrastructure.
VDPW sees the opportunity to use Whalen Pond as a tool to inform Verona residents about their direct impact on water quality because the drainage area into Whalen Pond is relatively small and exclusively residential. The City has rebate programs for rain gardens and rain barrels and will encourage the residents in the Whalen Pond drainage area to utilize these as a means to improve water quality in the Pond. The long-term monitoring by VASD and UW-Madison will provide data for evaluation of the effectiveness of these citizen based tools and other structural enhancements on water quality protection and improvement.
VDPW has encouraged the ongoing use of Whalen Pond by partnering with the VASD on planning for and implementing modification to the Pond to provide amenities that will facilitate and encourage its on-going use as an outdoor education space. VDPW took the initiative to develop a master plan for the site. The master plan formed the basis of a successful grant application by VASD to purchase an observation deck through the Madison Community Foundation. VDPW cost share included the in-kind service of the installation of the deck in late 2012. Additional amenities and enhancements are planned for the site for 2013 and 2014. These include:
- Installation of benches and storage on the deck
- Construction of an information kiosk
- Native plant enhancement
- Educational signage
- Pond bank reinforcement that will serve as on-going sampling stations