Calhoun students win grant for water quality project


Calhoun High School was among three schools on Long Island that received a financial grant from the Long Island Regional Planning Council as part of the 2021 Long Island Water Quality STEAM Challenge, a competition that encourages students to design and develop projects to reduce rain runoff and nitrogen pollution on school grounds.

The Long Island Water Quality Challenge was first offered in 2019 to all schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties with an invitation to devise methods to collect and treat water runoff from the school property. The Long Island Regional Planning Council comprise public and private sector leaders who are experienced in business, environment, transportation, and planning.

Calhoun High School, New Hyde Park Memorial High School, and Commack High School were each awarded $2,500 grants. Calhoun’s seniors Kamila Agudelo, Rose Cepeda, Rachel Macnamara, and Julie Moehringer designed a rain garden that features native plants to help filter out pollutants or excess nutrients from storm water runoff before it enters the surface waterways or recharges into the groundwater supply. Their teacher Jennifer Pefanis explained the work the students went through to develop their project

“The team investigated providing solutions to help improve the local regional water quality and met with school groundskeepers. They consulted with local engineers to help find ways to contain the runoff through the use of this rain garden,” Pefanis said. “Green Gardens will be native plants and suitable for vegetation, which will be designed and placed here in this courtyard, where we will break ground today to help recreate the natural water cycle and allow storm water to infiltrate into the soil will be beneficial to replace groundwater. This small action will ultimately reduce pollutants that would otherwise need to be treated. The garden will provide a natural habitat for birds and butterflies and will serve as an ongoing classroom for students in future years.”

“At a time in world history when the discussion of future potable water sources is perhaps more important than at any time in the past century, the STEAM Challenge created by the Long Island Regional Planning Council allowed our students to work on an authentic project in an area in which they are naturally interested as they understand it can affect their futures,” added Scott Bersin, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “We are extremely proud of the work done by Jennifer Pefanis and the students involved with the rain garden project at Calhoun.”

Superintendent Michael Harrington discussed the journey involved in participating in a science research project. “It’s not only about awards,” he said. “What you’ve done here at Calhoun, the legacy you are leaving, plus helping the environment – that is greater than any award.”

Winners of the 2022 grants will be announced by the LIRPC panel, and a new round of applicants will be invited later this year for the 2023 awards.

“It is essential for students today to recognize the challenges our region faces in protecting the quality of our water systems and the schools participating in the 2021 Water Quality STEAM Challenge have established an active and ongoing outdoor classroom for all students, present and future, to learn and reflect on this important issue,” said LIRPC Chairman John Cameron.

Nassau County legislator Steve Rhoads noted the significance of the Bay Park Conveyance Project and how the student’s rain garden will have a similar impact on a smaller scale and presented the students with citations and thanked them for their contribution to the Calhoun community.

“The fact that you have, on a smaller scale, done the same exact thing here is absolutely remarkable and it’s a great tribute to the resilience of all of our students,” Rhoads said. “You take a look at what’s gone on over the last couple of years and the challenges that you’ve had to overcome and it’s truly remarkable that you have not only succeeded but you have excelled and excelled in the level that you have, in order to win this competition. It’s a tribute to your resilience that’s going to carry you through the rest of your lives”

The students added why they were interested in participating in the STEAM Challenge.

“We felt like it was a really pressing issue — like on Long Island — and something that we wanted to address because we all are concerned about the environment,” said Moehringer.

“We wanted to make Calhoun a better place and make it known across districts,” added Macnamara.

The senior students will begin constructing the rain garden after the school year concludes which will be a lasting legacy after they graduate from Calhoun.

“It’s going to be a good last project to get our hands dirty and end high school,” Cepada said.