The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

PHWS Projects 2012

Spring Mills Middle School, WV Rain Garden

Spring Mills Middle School Rain Garden



At Spring Mills Middle School, 22 kids from the Science Club and their science teacher, Michelle Adams, planned, designed and executed a 500 square foot rain garden as one of three hands-on, project based learning restoration projects in the spring of 2012.


First, Cacapon Institute's Ben Alexandro strengthened the students’ knowledge base using watershed activities from the Potomac Highlands Watershed School.  Then Ben taught them what a rain garden was and why trees and other plants are so important to the watershed.  Using a bin of bare soil and another covered in grass, watering cans and several stopwatches, the students set up experiments educating club members about erosion and stormwater runoff.   Throughout the spring, the club learned about rain gardens and discovered how soil moves at different speeds through different mediums using modified NASA GLOBE soil lessons and project WET lessons. 

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Ben took the kids outside to assess the proposed area, to identify existing problems, and to measure the proposed area of construction. An area was found around a drain that was accepting large amounts of runoff.  The administration approved it as an excellent spot for a rain garden.  Executive Director Neil Gillies and Ben Alexandro surveyed the area to find the exact dimensions of the rain garden.




The edge was found where the outside would be no higher than one foot from the depth of the drain.

Next, the Science Club focused on advertising and PR for the events.  The students and school staff contacted local media sources that led to Cacapon Institute appearing on a radio broadcast. The students made lists of what materials were needed and where they were to be put. They created flyers to be taken home calling for volunteers, materials, and supplies. 
The student leaders also made posters to be hung around the school. These posters raised excitement of all the volunteers and students coming to help.  They ranged in size and design.
The students even showed off their graphic design skills making posters on their computers. Director of Education and Outreach Frank Rodgers improved the design of the rain garden.  After the utilities came out twice to flag the area, the area was tilled and a large culvert was placed around the drain to create a pooling areas in the rain garden, giving water a better chance to infiltrate.
Gravel was placed around the culvert to prevent erosion.  Concrete was mixed and used to seal the bottom of the culvert, making sure the water would pool and soak slowly into the rain garden. 
The students then designed the planting locations of the rain garden on to-scale maps and voted on the best design.  This lesson taught students how to draw to scale, how to use keys, and the importance of plant placement in a garden. They then used this map to lead the other students in where to plant.
The key helped the students understand what plants needed to go where depending on height, bloom time and color.  The school bought over 80 bags of mulch. Six tons of concrete sand, one yard of compost, and five tons of soil were delivered by Shenandoah Sand in preparation for the day’s events. 
The plants arrived and Michelle Adams and her students took care of them in preparation for the event. The students arrived at 8:10am on April 26th.  While the Science Club stayed out all day, three classes of third graders cycled out every 45 minutes.  Through adaptive management, the groups switched between the tree planting project and working on the rain gardens depending on what was the most pressing need at the time.  Cam Trowbridge from Opequan Creek Project Team came out to volunteer along with a number of parents. 
As the rotating classes of sixth graders came out, the Science Club members made sure that they knew what they were doing.  Sophia and Maurie took the lead in directing where each plant would be planted using the planting map that the students had made. Several dedicated students stayed after school to finish up the rain garden.
Large rip rap stones were placed on top of the drain and the level of the soil was raised in some areas to create a gentler slope and small ponding area.  After the spring’s large rains, the rain garden functioned nicely; however, some of the mulch had fallen into the rip rap.  The students cleaned the area and planned to maintain the rain garden to keep it functioning properly.
Although this was one of the biggest projects undertaken this spring as far as the amount and size of plants put into the ground, it was very successful. It was particularly heartening to see some children that may not learn as well in the classroom absolutely flourish outside in hands-on, project based learning.  One of the most dedicated and hardworking student leaders was a child that often had issues in the classroom.  “But out here he is focused and really dedicated,” teacher leader Michele Adams noted.  “He was itching to get out here earlier today.  He was exclaiming, ‘I want to get started!’ earlier today.”  The students, Michelle Adams, and the principal were very excited about all the work completed at Spring mills that day.   The teachers agreed to water the plants in the coming days, weeks, and over the summer months. They are excited to do more projects with CI in the future.