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FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2007
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Lee Vought, owner of Vought Water Gardens, works with stones near the garden pool at Eastwood Elementary School. Vought says he wants to be the cleanest guy on the team at the end of the day. 'The kids excavate it down,' says Vought. 'They install the pipes and filters. They put in the liners and the underlayer. They even do the landscaping.'
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Lee Vought, owner of Vought Water Gardens, works with stones near the garden pool at Eastwood Elementary School. Vought says he wants to be the cleanest guy on the team at the end of the day. "The kids excavate it down," says Vought. "They install the pipes and filters. They put in the liners and the underlayer. They even do the landscaping."

Decatur man helps bring ponds to schools

By Emily Peck
epeck@decaturdaily.com 340-2408

Most children think of backyard explorations and firefly chases as after-school activities.

One Decatur man is working to change that idea. Parent Michael Vought is giving Eastwood Elementary in Decatur a backyard pond.

"It's a great opportunity to get kids interested in nature," says Vought.

His Decatur-based water garden business is part of Ponds for Kids, a program that helps students learn about the environment.

To get a pond, schools must register through the Alabama Wildlife Federation. Once accepted, students raise $3,500 for materials. Vought then helps them install a $10,000 pond for free.

Vought says he wants to be the cleanest guy on the team at the end of the day.

"The kids excavate it down," says Vought. "They install the pipes and filters. They put in the liners and the underlayer. They even do the landscaping."

Students and teachers complete the 200-square-foot pond in a single day.

Getting them involved helps the school maintain the pond in the future says Vought.

"By the time the pond is finished, kids have so much invested in it that they want to take care of it and learn with it."

Students don't just use the pond to study science either, says Vought. The program is structured so that every teacher can use the pond.

Ponds for Kids provides a workbook of 18 activities that range from poetry slams to testing the quality of water. Students use math skills to measure the weight of rocks and the volume of the pond. Children also study the mammals and flying critters that visit the ecosystem.

"The kids love it," says Vought. "Visitors love it. It's a win-win situation for everyone."

Because his children attend Eastwood, Vought is providing the school with free materials and installing the pond.

Principal Margaret Greer calls Vought's efforts "a beautiful example of the way parents contribute to the school."

Eastwood recently received the parent involvement certification of excellence award by the national Parent Teacher Association.

Vought says the AWF recently gave him the "lofty task" of installing a pond in every Alabama school. He has installed 10 ponds so far at schools, including Calhoun Community College, West Morgan Elementary and Moulton Elementary.

Eastwood is the first Decatur school to get involved in the program, although Vought will install a pond at Austinville Elementary on Aug. 26.

AWF partners with North American Water Garden Society to sponsor Ponds for Kids. Vought is chapter coordinator for the Decatur and Birmingham branches of the society.

He started Vought Water Gardens in 1993 and the business is ranked in the top 100 of 65,000 contractors.

Vought has built ponds for the Home and Garden Channel, Animal Planet, ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and Disney's EPCOT.

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