This week, we welcome a guest blogger, Tracie Ashley.  Tracie facilitates the EAST program at Prairie Grove Middle School, a program that she helped establish to provide students the opportunity to learn through service projects.  She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, and was the 2009 Golden Paddle Award winner in Education.


The 7th and 8th grade students from the EAST class at the Prairie Grove Middle School have been affiliated with the Illinois River Watershed Partnership since the establishment of their class in August of 2007.  EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology) is an educational model focused on student-driven service learning projects accomplished by using teamwork and cutting-edge technology.


Rain Garden PlantingEAST students planting a rain garden


Students identify problems in their local communities and then use the tools in their classroom to develop solutions all while collaborating with civic organizations and community partners.  One such partner is the Illinois River Watershed Partnership.  Through self-directed learning strategies, the Prairie Grove Middle School EAST students seek out ways to help their watershed as well as their surrounding environment.


Growing Conservation EAST students planting native grasses in growing stations


Since the program began in 2007, EAST@PGMS students have participated in many activities and programs with the Illinois River Watershed Partnership.  Here’s an example of some of their projects:

  • Conducted multiple water quality tests along the Illinois River and at Lake Wedington.
  • Participated in World Water Monitoring Day at Lake Lincoln.
  • Took on a teaching role at the very first IRWP Watershed Festival at Sam’s Club in Springdale.
  • Planted (and are currently planting) native grasses (Arkansas Switchgrass and Bluestem) in their classroom grow station and transplanted (will transplant more soon) these grasses in local rain gardens around NWA.
  • Held a floating wetlands workshop at the Cave Springs Water Sanctuary where they worked with Keith and Steve Patterson from BioxDesign out of Poteau, Oklahoma and aided 200+  Kirksey Middle School science students from Rogers on how to build their own floating wetlands.  Four were launched into the Water Sanctuary that same afternoon
  • Have planted 5,000+ trees throughout the watershed during the annual Riparian Project over the past seven or eight years.
  • Presented our Floating Wetland’s project at a National Convention in Hot Springs.
  • Our EAST class was named the 2011 Golden Paddle Award in the technical/research/education category because of our environmental stewardship efforts.
  • Attended this years’ IRWP Conservation Leadership Summit in January and collaborated with other scholastic and community partners on future projects for the watershed.
  • Participated in an environmental video through Your Media for the IRWP
  • Received a Rain Garden Grant through the IRWP in 2013 and worked directly with the partnership to install a rain garden at our local senior center.
  • Have recently been invited to be on a Time Capsule Committee for the Cave Springs Water Sanctuary and are working with CAST (Center for Advanced Spatial Technology) at the University of Arkansas on a story map that will tell the complete history of the water located there and how it has shaped the community, the county, and the watershed.
  • Are currently competing with several other groups and organizations to officially name the lake at the CS sanctuary.
  • Are currently collaborating with our Environmental Science classes to build and plant a vegetable garden at our local senior center, using grant funds already received ($10,000), to grow fruits and vegetables to help supply our four school cafeterias as well as our meals on wheels program with healthy food choice items.


Floating Wetlands Project

EAST students completing their Floating Wetlands project


In Prairie Grove, the middle school EAST students strive to make the world around them just a little better than how they found it.  They write grants, seek out solutions to community issues, and work with business and community professionals on projects that not only grow the students as self-directed learners, but also help instill and grow character, leadership, time management, and collaboration skills that are normally formed in upper education and/or in the workplace environment.


Riparian Project

EAST students participating in the Illinois River Watershed Partnership’s 2014 Riparian Project


To learn more about these amazing EAST students, please visit their class Facebook page at: EAST at Prairie Grove Middle School or drop by their city sometime to see them in action!



If you are a teacher who wants to help your students learn through stewardship projects, or if you know of an individual student who has a passion for the environment and community service, our next Student Leadership Summit may be of interest to you. It’s scheduled for July 31 – August 1st.  To learn more about the Student Leadership Summit or other Outdoor Learning opportunities, contact us:


Related Posts:

Fueling a Passion for the Outdoors

Growing Conservation

2014: Making It Count

Nature’s Classroom:  Outdoor Immersion and Lifelong Learning