The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

PHWS Projects 2012

Paw Paw Schools, WV Rain Garden

Ben Alexandro of Cacapon Institute worked with student leaders of Paw Paw K-12 school as they designed, planned, built, and planted a new rain garden in a non point source pollution hotspot.  260 plants of 13 species were planted in the new rain garden.  This nearly 350 square foot stormwater management BMP will both reduce pollution and beautify the school for years to come.   Ben worked with students in classes and taught them key watershed science concepts and pollution control using Potomac Highlands Watershed School lessons like "What is a Watershed", "Sedimentation Blues", and "Stream Cleaner."   He also engaged them in becoming environmental leaders as they designed this project, which is at the core of CI's PHLOW (Potomac Headwaters Leaders of Watersheds) concept.  

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At the beginning of 2012, Paw Paw assessed the school grounds.  The students found an area that was often wet and accepting potentially polluted runoff from the baseball field and a large portion of the school yard.  The students decided that they wanted to use the knowledge they learned the last school year to install another rain garden.  
            Since it was mostly high school level students working on the rain garden, they were able to take on much more of the planning and math of the project.  Using geometry and algebra, the students calculated how many yards of mulch, sand, and dirt that they would need.  The students also learned skills in public relations, practiced mock interviews and contacted local media outlets.    The PHLOW team created posters, signs, ands flyers that they posted all around the school, and their entire town of Paw Paw.

The week before the rain garden planting, an adult volunteer came out twice to backhoe the area.  He expanded the area beyond the original planís dimensions, and in doing so increased the rain garden area to nearly 350 square feet.  The larger rain garden would be able to retain more water and require more native plants than the previous design.

The majority of the middle school and high school students took part in different phases of the planting.  They cycled out in 45minute sessions.  The first group picked the existing rocks out of the rain garden area to make a check dam.  They further loosened up the soil and added sand to the soil to make it more permeable.

An adult volunteer donated rich topsoil to be mixed in with the sand at the rain garden area.  He donated and dumped 10 full lots of topsoil into the garden throughout the day.  

A very helpful adult volunteer, Ruth, tilled and prepped the area as Xavier and a couple other devoted high school students staked and mulched trees from the Spring 2012 CTree planting.

The next several groups mixed sand and soil to fill the area back in and shape the rain garden into a berm and ponding area. 

01.  An even layer of mulch was added to the rain garden area.


01.  The rain garden was shaped, bermed, mulched ready to be planted.

Lead teacher Carol Coryea and CI's Ben Alexandro helped direct the students where the plants should be planted using the designs the kids had made.
Damian carefully set the plants out where they should be planted.  PHLOW Student leaders picked exactly what native plants to use in their rain garden.   They planted based on height, water tolerance, shade tolerance, and color scheme of the plants. 

10.  Larger water loving plants were kept to the middle while shorter drought resistant plants were relegated to the exterior.  The extra plants were added to the 2011 rain garden to keep it lush and beautiful.

10.  The students planted taller more water loving plants in the center such as cardinal flowers, beebalm, and joe pye weed. The edges were planted with shorter plants that did not need as much moisture such as common blue violets and black eyed susans.  Plants that could tolerate some shade such as sneeze weed and great blue lobelia were planted on the north side of the garden. 

On the planting day the older PHLOW high school students educated grade school students that came out to observe the rain garden.  The PHLOW students explained what they were doing and why it was so important and taught the younger students how to properly plant native plants.
Both the rain garden and the CTree project completed in the spring of 2012 engaged not only the school across several grades, but transformed students into leaders of watershed protection and stewardship in their communities. 
This project was funded with grants from the Friends of the Cacapon River, NOAA-BWET, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, WV's Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant, The MARPAT Foundation, and the members of Cacapon Institute.