Getting adults excited about protecting natural resources is not always an easy task. So it should come as no surprise that teachers say they have a tough time engaging students when they talk about the environment. Getting kids excited, though, is the key to them remembering their lessons, so some schools are taking a new hands-on approach to the material.

The New York Times’s Lisa W. Foderaro says that Stephen A. Halsey Junior High School is one of five schools in Queens and Brooklyn working with the nonprofit group Trust for Public Land, which is helping to teach kids about outdated infrastructure and how green infrastructure can help prevent storm–sewer runoff from being discharged into rivers. Foderaro tells how representatives of the trust visualized the issue for the students:  

Maddalena Polletta, who works for the trust, poured copper-colored glitter into the buildings to represent waste water, and sprinkled some on the streets for good measure to take the place of dog feces, litter and oil from cars. She then poured a trickle of water into the building and over the streets, and the students watched as it flowed cleanly through one of two clear-plastic tubes into a mock waterway.

Ideally, this is how the system would operate all the time, but just a quarter-inch of rain can overflow it, Poletta says. Green infrastructure can be implemented to help curb this overflow, though. Foderaro describes how Polletta explains the concept of going green to the children:

Then she placed a green sponge on a roof and poured water over it. She squeezed out the sponge to show all the rain that was captured. She did the same with an ecologically friendly paving stone.

At the end of all the lessons, the sixth-graders will get the chance to bring what they’ve learned to life by designing an eco-playground. The idea is that the eco-playground will help to capture precipitation and prevent it from overflowing the city’s sewer system. The students, Foderaro says, are already seeing new uses for the school’s turf field, meditation garden, and vegetable garden. Give them a few more years and we may have some new landscape architects on our hands.