Students at Maplewood Middle School turned part of their school’s lawn into a blossoming rain garden.
Now, every time a shower passes, students can observe three rain gardens on the grounds doing their job, capturing runoff. “When it rains, it fills with water. It’s very obvious the water is staying there versus running into the parking lot and down the street,” said eighth grade teacher Julie Cazett.
During a stormwater engineering unit at Maplewood Middle School, science teachers Sara Palchik and Julie Cazett encouraged their students to think of real world solutions to the runoff generated by lawns and parking lots on their own school grounds. After weighing the options, the students suggested planting a rain garden.
Little did they know, Sage Passi and her colleagues at the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District had also identified the school as a prime site for rain gardens to reduce runoff into impaired Kohlman Lake. Passi brings over 20 years of experience, working with students and community groups to build projects that protect area lakes and streams. The serendipitous timing meant that the eighth graders were able to make their ideas a reality. “It was exciting that kids who designed the solution could see what they’re learning in class connect with actual solutions,” said Palchik.
The enthusiasm was contagious. “When there’s a teacher who’s excited, kids will get excited,” said Passi. “These are very open, warm teachers.”
That spring, students took core soil samples and laid their plans for the installation of three rain gardens on the school grounds. Over summer break, contractors constructed the gardens and prepped the ground for planting. When classes resumed in the fall, students, teachers, and Passi worked together to plant one of the three large scale gardens.
On installation day, both seventh and eighth grade students got the chance to dirty their hands in the garden. More than 150 students spent part of a beautiful September day getting hands-on learning experience under the guidance of Passi and master gardeners from Maplewood Nature Center.
“Each kid planted two or three gallon pot plants, and they had a blast,” said seventh grade science teacher Mary Dvorak, who incorporated the day into lessons on ecology. “They were all invested.” Cazett added that, “the students were really engaged and took a lot of pride in working together.”
A successful rain garden installation is the result of many harmonious partnerships. The watershed district, school facilities staff, contractors, building engineers, landscape architects, Ramsey County master gardeners, Maplewood Nature Center staff, teachers, and students all played a vital role in bringing this project to fruition.
A year and a half after installation, the rain gardens at Maplewood Middle School continue to provide unique learning opportunities to seventh and eighth graders alike. The tactile experience of creating and maintaining a garden on site has made a world of difference to the middle schoolers. “They have many more question about rain gardens than I have ever gotten before!” said Cazett. “They’re really, genuinely interested in it.” The students and teachers have an ongoing commitment to maintaining the gardens, keeping them free of weeds and trash.
Meanwhile, Passi continues to work with the teachers and students of Maplewood Middle School through other native planting projects, including a courtyard revitalization that’s currently underway. “It would have been great to have those opportunities growing up,” said Passi as she reflected on the power of working with young people to address water quality issues. She’s motivated to give students the chance to “bond with a natural area and empower them to realize that they can make a difference.”