The drainage area at the north edge of Sacajawea Middle School was full of mud, garbage, weeds and old Dr. Pepper bottles when Jeydin O'Malley first saw it.
"Disgusting," the 14-year-old Bozeman student said.
On Tuesday, the area was transformed into an attractive "rain garden."
Not only is it prettier, with a streambed lined by river rocks and bordered by native and perennial plants, but the rain garden is also designed to help the environment.
The plants will clean the water, filtering out fertilizers from the nearby sod farm and soccer fields, parking-lot oils and other pollutants that would otherwise run off into the Gallatin River.
The garden was created thanks to the hard work of several volunteers and about 16 middle school and high school students.
"They've been amazing," said Heather Denny, the Bozeman School District's homeless liaison. "They've hauled all these rocks, dug holes. It's pretty hard to get middle-school kids interested in manual labor."
Yet when the kids learned it was going to benefit the community and the environment, Denny said, "They really got into it."
"It was fun," 12-year-old Damon Penneston said.
"I think it's a great thing to do," Jeydin said. "I think they should do this everywhere. It would be pretty cool."
Dad Mark O'Malley said his son had a rough eighth-grade year, and this project gave him a chance to mentor younger kids and boosted his ability to help out and care about others.
The project started with a $5,000 grant from the state Department of Health and Human Services to run an outside-of-school program for kids at risk of not graduating, Denny said. Some kids working on the project have been homeless, living in the Haven domestic violence shelter or with Family Promise, or faced other difficulties, she said.
So Denny and teacher Sue Stolp started a summer class. They wanted kids to learn in a fun, hands-on way. Sharlyn Izurieta, coordinator of the Greater Gallatin Watershed Council, suggested building a rain garden. They called the class STReaM, for Summer Tutoring in Reading and Math.
Students used math to calculate the garden's square footage, wrote a rain garden brochure and did research on everything from Lewis and Clark to native Montana plants, animal habitats and pollination.
Volunteering on the project were Dan LaFrance of Arrowleaf Landscape Design, Montana State University student Tyler Schroeder and recent MSU grad Hollie Stepleton.
Everyone gathered Tuesday to celebrate and plant the last plants. Mayor Jeff Krauss, School Superintendent Kirk Miller and Principal Gordon Grissom wielded ceremonial shovels, lending the event official panache.
Skyler Trevino, 13, said he learned about how pollution "could really mess up our water" and hurt people's health.
"I feel like we're doing a big part in our community, and I'm a little bit excited, actually," Skyler said.
Aliza Cioffi, 13, the only girl, said she had fun, even though the boys delighted in scaring her with computer pictures of spiders. She suggested planting columbine, forget-me-nots and day lilies.
"I think it's fun and it's really good for the environment," she said.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.