by Nick Austin
Storm Alert 3 Meteorologist

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)--"I cannot get the thought out of my head that this is the best day ever for me," exclaimed Alex O'Dell, a sixth grader at Dalewood Middle School in Chattanooga.

The twelve your old, along with around 100 of his classmates, spent a beautiful Friday outside and got their hands dirty planting gardens. The plants that will bloom there will not yield food, but will track ozone levels in the atmosphere. Park rangers were on hand to supervise and assist.

"These are ozone sensitive plants," explained Brenton Bellomy of the Russell Cave National Monument, located just over the state line in Alabama. "Plants that show purpling or stippling, sometimes yellowing, and sometimes even the leaves die depending on the levels of ozone pollution in the air."

According to Bellomy, Dalewood is the first school in Chattanooga with a class this large to take on the project. Melba Burkes, the teacher in charge of the project, stumbled upon the idea while surfing the Internet. Some of the big names behind it may sound familiar.

"I came across this grant project from the National Forestry Service in conjunction with NASA, and I just applied for it and we got it."

The grant covered all the costs from soil to seeds to equipment. The kids couldn't wait to dig in and learn.

"I enjoyed putting the soil in the box and pulling out the weeds," said 11 year old Ti'aisha Weddington.

"I've been learning about the ozone layer and how much hard work it is to plant these things," said 12 year old Alex O'Dell.

"You can help the environment by digging and planting stuff," said 11 year old Tadarius Hester.

As the plants grow, the students will keep track of any ozone effects and report their findings regularly to the forestry service. Burkes hopes the students will pay more attention to the world around them as a result of the experience.

"Maybe this will make them more aware of the things that they do when it comes to throwing away things and just really being respectful of nature," stated Burkes.