The Potomac Highlands Watershed School 

PHWS Projects 2012

Tomahawk Intermediate School,  WV Rain Garden

Tomahawk Intermediate School Rain Garden and Education.



On April 15th and 16th 2012, Tomahawk Intermediate School in Hedgesville, WV involved the entire 3rd grade in watershed restoration projects and community outreach.  Cacapon Institute (CI) spearheaded a student-led project to design and install a 37 foot by 8 foot raised bed rain garden, a similarly sized wildflower seed planting, an informative billboard, educational posters and flyers, interpretive signs, and three decorated rain barrels.  Nearly 200 students, eight teachers, five staff members and ten parent volunteers were involved in restoration projects.  

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To tackle these projects, a month before the planting the entire grade learned about runoff pollution problems focusing on their local watersheds using online interactive activities in Cacapon Institute’s eSchool, Potomac Highlands Watershed School.  Then, all the students explored ways that they could prevent pollution coming from their school grounds and greatly improve local Back Creek, nearly in the school’s back yard.  They learned that a rain garden is a landscaped area that holds runoff water for a short time.  Potentially polluted water quickly soaks into amended soil and is absorbed by native plants.  With the help of a CI model using lab tubing, funnels, sponges and rocks, the students learned how storm water runoff from the roof could be filtered, cleaned, and managed by being diverted into a rain garden.
The dedicated teachers at Tomahawk then split the entire third grade into ten unique committees.  Each committee focused on a different aspect of the rain garden construction.  For example, the Digger and Drainer Committee learned about soil science through hands-on education activities and drainage experiments.

Using soil flow charts, the students learned that the soil in the area was a clay loam.  Using methods modified from NASA’s GLOBE soil program, the students poured water through different types of soil to see which soil drained water more quickly.  “I am sand,” boomed the Fillers and Smoothers Committee with their arms outstretched.  By pretending to be different sized particles and moving water, the Potomac Headwaters Leaders of Watersheds (PHLOW) students learned how water molecules flow at different speeds through different types of soils.
“I am clay,” whispered the students standing shoulder to shoulder as the students pretending to be water struggled to find a path through the huddled mass.  These committees learned that the clay loam currently in the area of their proposed garden would not allow water to soak through very well.  They decided that the soil would need to be amended with sand and a bit of organic material. 
The Planting Committees learned about all the services that plants provide, why native plants are so important, and how plants help stop the two main types of pollution effecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: nutrients and sediment.  While some students acted as water droplets running down a hill picking up pollution on their way to deliver pollution to fish in a nearby stream, other students pretended to be plants catching the water and the pollution.  Thus they learned how native plants help keep their water clean.  Other committees engaged the community, their school, and their parents.  One committee designed large interpretive signs at the rain garden.  Another created posters to hang around the school and flyers to take home to their parents.  They learned the essential pieces to include in any story: who, what, where, why, and when.
Each of these committees was managed by the Planning and Oversight Committee.  The other committees reported what they had learned to their entire classes.  The Planning and Oversight Committee recorded and compiled all the knowledge these other committees learned so the third grade as a whole could learn about every piece of the project as a whole.  The members of this committee were the true leaders of watersheds.  They were in charge of designing the rain garden, engaging the community, securing materials, and making sure the project was successful as a whole.  They inventoried all tools and materials and chose which designs that other committees had made were going to be implemented.    They sharpened their community outreach skills through mock interviews and PR brainstorms.  They even wowed the local reporter during her visit to the worksite.  “The 3rd grade in Tomahawk Middle School designed this rain garden to stop sediment from getting into Back Creek and to make the water clean for macroinvertebrates,” boasted one leader to Samantha Cronk of the Martinsburg Journal.
Over spring break, CI staff prepped the area with a back hoe.  A three foot trench was dug out and laid with gravel and perforated pipe. This pipe allowed any infiltrating water to quickly extend the length of the trench and infiltrate faster into the ground.     On the morning of April 15th, tools were laid out and everything was made ready for the day’s activities.
The students discovered that sand allowed water to infiltrate much faster than the clay loam currently there.  Therefore, CI's Frank Rogers mixed sand into the soil as he filled back in the rain garden. 
Another committee of students painted, installed, and secured the edging board around the rain garden. 
Another committee installed a second, higher under drain to allow water to soak into the rain garden more readily while keeping pooling water away from the wall. The committee also helped redirect gutter downspouts from the roof to the garden and installed overflow under drains.
The Smoother and Filler Committee shaped the soil so that the water pooled in the middle of the garden as it slowly infiltrated and was absorbed by the native plants. The Leadership Committee used their planting map to direct where all the plants would be planted.
The Planting Committee set out everything where it was supposed to be planted before finishing the planting. Students had a great time learning how to properly plant native plants.  They reviewed concepts they had learned in class through real restoration projects. 
Each group of students enjoyed being in charge of a different aspect of the rain garden.
The Billboard Committee painted two interpretive 2 foot by 4 foot signs to hang up near the rain garden. Between the under drains installed below the surface of the garden and the edging board designed and painted by elementary school students, the project was a challenging but successful endeavor.  The rain garden will not only manage a large area of roof runoff, but it will also support native wildlife while beautifying the school. 
The rain garden functioned wonderfully in the heavy rains of Spring 2012.  The gardens accepted hundreds of gallons of roof runoff and allowed it to pool temporarily, then slowly soak into the garden.  The overflow drain prevents this garden from ever flooding uncontrollably.