Sixth-grade students at Broad Creek Middle School will soon have an outdoor classroom of their own that they will use to learn about stormwater runoff, native plants and local water quality.

Staff in the federation’s Ocean office have been busy at work this school year leading rain garden lessons and planning the construction of a rain garden that will break ground this winter. The rain garden is set to be complete in the spring and will be used for sixth-grade education programs.

Three federation staff – Rachel Bisesi, coastal education coordinator; Bree Tillett, coastal specialist; and Kristin Gibson, AmeriCorps coastal community engagement specialist with the federation – have worked on rain garden plans with Heather Blackwell, media coordinator, and Ryan Koczot, sixth-grade teacher. Blackwell secured a grant from National Geographic to fund the project. She said after she and Koczot attended the National Geographic Summer Institute, they committed to a project that would have a positive impact on the school and surrounding community. Todd Miller, executive director of the federation, suggested a rain garden.

“We had the students choose this project from a variety of ideas ranging from recycling to installing hand dryers in the bathroom,” Blackwell said. “The rain garden seemed like a perfect fit and we were excited to partner with the federation. As soon as spring approaches, we will be in our final stages of the project.”

Kristin Gibson, AmeriCorps coastal community engagement specialists, teaches the students about stormwater runoff with the EnviroScape model. This lesson is supplemental to the upcoming construction of the school rain garden.

The federation will assist with the construction of the rain garden this winter and will help the students place native plants in the spring. Check out the site plans here.

As part of this new outdoor classroom, Bisesi and Gibson have led lessons on stormwater runoff with the sixth graders. In December, 94 students learned about runoff through the EnviroScape lesson. The EnviroScape is a watershed model that demonstrates how water moves through a watershed, or a geographic area where all water flows into the same water body.

To introduce the students to watersheds, Bisesi and Gibson taught them about stormwater runoff in relation to the nearby White Oak River

“The EnviroScape is a hands-on model where students put ‘pollutants’ on the model, such as food coloring for oil or cocoa powder for soil erosion, and then use a bottle to spray the model, simulating rain,” Gibson said. “After they see the movement of the runoff, they discuss techniques that could have prevented the pollutant from ending up in waterways.”

These techniques, or best management practices (BMPs), include rain gardens. They learned about existing school rain gardens in the area as well as the different components of a rain garden, including native plants, a bowl shape and choosing a site.

“This will allow the students to have some ownership in the school, and the overall rain garden idea will indeed help with a flooding problem we have in our courtyard area after heavy rains,” Koczot said. “The students are excited about getting to work in the springtime.”

For more information about this project, contact Rachel Bisesi at 252-393-8185. Learn more about the rain garden plans in this video from Heather Blackwell.