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Perspective | Buncombe County Early College students designing a park

Buncombe County Early College (BCEC) first-year students are working with a local nonprofit on a real-world park design project to benefit the community.

BCEC and RiverLink have teamed up to improve an undeveloped riverbank area in Azalea Park in the city of Asheville. The students are examining how to use innovative and sustainable design methods in public spaces to increase and support environmentally healthy interactions between humans and nature, said Jeff Fleckenstein, BCEC college, career, and community coordinator. Throughout this semester, student teams will focus on different project priorities, including a nature trail, pollinator garden, parking and seating, waste management, signage, and more.

“We’re connecting students to the broader community through authentic learning experiences,” Fleckenstein said. “This is a real-world challenge — how to redesign a park — and we’re going to solve it with our creativity, collaboration, and professionalism.”

Courtesy of Buncombe County Schools

On Tuesday, students tested water temperature, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and nutrient load in the Swannanoa River, which runs along the border of the park. Dipping scientific instruments and glassware into the water, they recorded and compared results with one another while listening to data interpretations by RiverLink staff.

“We’re getting to work with a lot of people in the community to make this space better and more accessible and more desirable,” said first-year student Ash Marquis. “I really like that we’re contributing to something that’s bigger than ourselves, and we’re getting experience going through all these processes.”

“It’s exciting,” added fellow first-year student Jennifer Flores. “I feel like I’m doing something to help the planet and give back to the community.”

RiverLink previously worked with BCEC first-year students in November, when they collected and cataloged macroinvertebrates in the Swannanoa River at Charles D. Owen Park. That project familiarized students with how science works in the field.

They’ve learned how to use statistical analysis to process data and how to make persuasive arguments in a scientific context, said BCEC English teacher Philip Justen.

“They’ve been talking about this project in their math, science, and English classes,” he said. “It’s truly integrated, and we’ve been able to point to this project all year long as the students learn to do the work.”

The Azalea Park project officially begins on Feb. 27 at the Mission Health/A-B Tech Conference Center. There, students will meet community experts who will serve as mentors to the students during the project. At a Final Expo event (held at Azalea Park on May 12), students will “pitch” or present their designs/vision to the community experts and partners, RiverLink, and Asheville Parks and Recreation Department.

Editor’s note: This perspective was first published by Buncombe County Schools. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

Tim Reaves

Tim Reaves believes education is the pathway to a better life and shares stories of student success at Buncombe County Schools. He studied journalism at Appalachian State University.