The federation has been busy at work the past few weeks using rain gardens to teach students about water quality and stormwater, the number-one polluter of coastal waters. Check out how we’ve been keeping busy in these living classrooms!

Manteo Middle School students help out at the new Wanchese office

Students from Mary Ann Hodges’ eighth-grade class at Manteo Middle School visited the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s new Wanchese office at the Wanchese Marine Industrial Park from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3 to conduct water quality experiments in the office’s rain garden.saramanteomiddle_nov2016

The students cycled through the federation’s new rain garden where they identified plants and used water samples to perform measurements for turbidity (cloudiness or haziness), salinity, nitrate levels and dissolved oxygen levels. They also analyzed the acidity of the water sample by checking the pH.

All the federation’s Wanchese staff members helped out over the course of the three days, as well as volunteer Cyndy Holda, an advisory committee member with the federation. A few other folks shared their expertise, including Preston Butler, an intern with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment Field Studies Program, and Erica Connery, an AmeriCorps member with the federation, who has been expanding the federation’s education activities.

Hodges was pleased to provide this learning opportunity for her 70 students. She said she was excited for her students to apply classroom knowledge to the outdoor living classroom.

“The new location will lend itself to expanding this program and adding other opportunities. We are so fortunate that the Coastal Federation is able to provide this experience for our students — it brings excitement and relevance to learning as they tie the classroom knowledge to their surroundings,” Hodges said.

In September, Hallas and Connery led classroom lessons about water quality with these same students. The lesson also covered the challenges that stormwater runoff poses to the community, and how the students can get involved with addressing these challenges by learning about the school’s rain garden and participating in other community events.

Oysters, marine debris and rain garden work at Manteo Elementary School

Connery and Ann Daisey, a community conservationist with the federation, also visited a fourth-grade class at Manteo Elementary School from Nov. 8 to Nov. 10 to use their new rain garden for conservation lessons.

ericamanteoelem_nov2016“The lesson was focused on coastal conservation and the work that we do at the federation to reduce marine debris and restore oysters,” Connery said.

For this lesson, Connery showed the students different items that commonly show up as marine debris, and then quizzed the students about their decomposition rates. They also learned about how some of these items are recyclable.

This lesson led the students into a lesson about recycling oyster shells. The federation uses recycled oyster shells to build living shorelines. These recycled shells encourage new oyster growth, which the students were able to visualize during a game where they had to take on the role of spat searching for oyster shells to settle on.

“The outdoor classroom is a nice change of scenery for the students, and I have more plans to use the space in the future including a water cycle lesson with the second-grade classes,” Connery said.

YouthBuild students excited to reuse cistern water

Hallas also met with River City YouthBuild in Elizabeth City on Nov. 9 for a classroom lesson and to work in the group’s rain garden.

River City YouthBuild is an organization that helps economically disadvantaged youth earn their GEDs through coursework and hands-on training. The federation has worked with YouthBuild for several years to focus on environmental education andyouthbuild_nov2016 provide opportunities to learn about coastal restoration.

The lesson introduced stormwater runoff, water quality and the importance of low-impact development to the new students. There were a couple of past students in attendance who attended the lesson for review.

The YouthBuild site in Elizabeth City has a cistern and a small rain garden. The students were excited to tell Hallas that they used water from the 1500-gallon cistern to wash their cars the previous week, a great example of reusing stormwater.

After the classroom lesson, Hallas and the students identified plants and worked on maintenance in the rain garden.

“After the lesson, we headed outside to identify some plants in their rain garden and work on a bit of maintenance. Their rain garden has really flourished since this past spring and is looking great,” Hallas said.

The federation’s Wanchese office is open Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Community members are invited to stop by to meet the staff and learn more about how to protect the coast.

The next volunteer opportunity will be during the Town of Manteo’s Fall Litter Cleanup on Nov. 19, from 9 to 11 a.m. Contact Sara Hallas at 252-473-1607 or visit for more information.