If you take a walk around the streets of White Bear Lake, you might be lucky enough to see a class of fourth-graders from Frassati Catholic Academy singing a song. No, it’s not a Christmas carol they’re singing, it’s a new song in honor of the four storm drains adopted by their school.
Frassati Academy is located on the eastern fringe of 25 square miles protected by the Vadnais Lakes Area Watershed Management Organization (VLAWMO). Even though it’s a couple of blocks from the shore of White Bear Lake, water in the storm drains around Frassati flows into Lambert Creek, which eventually drains into Vadnais Lake. Lambert Creek is an area of focus for VLAWMO because it’s a water source for the Saint Paul Regional Water Services. The creek is currently on the state impaired list for high levels of E. coli.
Frassati’s Adopt-a-Drain effort was integrated into their STREAM education model. STREAM stands for curriculum that covers Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Educator Heidi Ferris has more than a decade of experience teaching middle and high school students science. These days she supports environmental education through her company Growing Green Hearts, which pairs interdisciplinary lesson plans with adventures in nature to teach kids about the environment.
Heidi has developed a curriculum series called Connect-the-Drops. It brings faith, science, and youth leadership together. She begins each project with a question: “Where are the places that where positive human impact can a difference?” Long before she began her work with the students at Frassati, Heidi met with Pastor Gary Walpole as he sought opportunities to bring environmental justice into his work at Peace United Methodist Church in North Oaks.
Together, Pastor Walpole and Heidi assembled an interdenominational cohort and secured grant funding from VLAWMO to support environmental education in three churches located in the watershed: Peace United Methodist, Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Vadnais Heights, and Saint Mary of the Lake Catholic Church, which is associated with Frassati Academy, in White Bear Lake.
Heidi connected with VLAWMO about education opportunities, and a priority emerged. They’re working to increase understanding of how residents make an impact on local bodies of water like Lambert Creek, which affect the Saint Paul water supply. Heidi trained a group of leaders from each church to embed water education into their faith’s practice of honoring water. Through each church leader, Heidi can reach a congregation of at least 300, spreading the message across the region.
When Heidi brought Connect-the-Drops to Frassati, students built a model watershed, experimented with an engineering design challenge, adopted storm drains, and weighed the amount of debris they cleared from each drain. Heidi finds common ground in scripture, linking design iterations with the idea of grace. “Rather than saying that we’re all going to die because of climate change, this project is about forgiveness, hope, and love. It connects with the kids’ culture, and they’re empowered to take action.”
Fifth-grade students adopted four storm drains near the school, and they even named the drains: Pink, Cheese Curd, Stormy, and Mango. Fourth grade students created the original song about adopting storm drains. Each student brings their own background to their understanding of water systems. One student who lives in a rural area notes that the city had to add a culvert to drain a wet area on his family’s property. Another student’s father works with barges on the Mississippi, and he knew plenty about how sediment in the river can interrupt cargo deliveries.
When asked whether any of the students had adopted drains in their home neighborhoods, one proudly noted that she cleaned a drain that was so caked with dirt that plants were growing there. The kids clearly see the streets and their connection to water systems in a new way. One said, “There are sewer drains and storm drains everywhere!”
Next time you pick up a shovel or a broom to clean a drain in your neighborhood, you can hum Frassati’s song and remember that youth leaders are doing their part to protect our waterways. Click here for more information about adopting a drain. https://adopt-a-drain.org/