T hree Tahoma elementaries are helping to filter pollution with new rain gardens, thanks to a pair of local landscapers, an environmental educator and lots of students willing to get their hands dirty.
“It’s kind of a community service project for us,” says Ena Soushek, who operates Maple Valley-based MVG, a landscape contractor, with her husband, Earl Soushek. “We are excited about it.”
The Sousheks dug out the rain gardens at Shadow Lake, Glacier Park and Lake Wilderness, where Earl Soushek attended school decades ago. They also helped students plant appropriate foliage last week. (Rock Creek Elementary already has a rain garden.)
Peter Donaldson, an actor and environmental educator who initiated the project, believes that getting students involved in solving environmental problems is key. The rain gardens are part of a larger stormwater curriculum that Donaldson and Friends of the Cedar River Watershed are designing and implementing along with both the City of Maple Valley and the Tahoma School District. Donaldson says the curriculum will be shared with dozens of other districts in the region.
While many districts cling to textbook-based curriculum, Donaldson says, Tahoma has embraced the idea of incorporating hands-on learning. At a recent stormwater pollution workshop held at Glacier Park, Donaldson encouraged city engineers to use Tahoma freshmen as interns this summer to help map the city’s stormwater drainage system.
Cassandra Houghton, a Tahoma Senior High School junior who works with Donaldson on his Watershed Report, echoed the importance of student involvement when she spoke at the workshop.
“We want what the city is doing to be curriculum for our students so that students are solving real-world problems,” Houghton said. Read more about the Watershed Report HERE.
In fact, Donaldson contacted the Sousheks to help create the elementary rain gardens after they helped their daughter Amanda dig one as part of a school project at Tahoma Junior High School.
Last week, Donaldson took classes of elementary students on “tours” of the school stormwater systems.
At Glacier Park, Donaldson showed a group of third graders a square of high-tech “pervious concrete” that the Sousheks installed on the sidewalk at the base of the rain garden’s downspout. Pervious concrete absorbs water rather than allowing it to run into drains. Read more about pervious concrete HERE.
Donaldson later walked with the students to a concrete-covered outdoor area between two “pods” of classrooms. About a half dozen downspouts led to a storm drain in the center. Donaldson asked the students to come up with ways to keep runoff out of that drain.
The third-graders, who have been studying the importance of clean water in the salmon life cycle, expertly stepped up one by one, suggesting installing a green roof, or a pervious sidewalk, or a rain garden.
Instead of allowing water to rush down storm drains and directly into local waterways, rain gardens — which are typically placed at the base of downspouts — hold runoff in place and act as a natural filter for pollutants.
For the stormwater workshop, Donaldson educated Glacier Park students about watershed pollution, then let them do the talking. The kids advised the audience of families, teachers and city officials to avoid washing their cars in their driveways, to use compost rather then chemical fertilizer on their lawns and gardens, and to pick up after their dogs.
“There’s a thousand dogs alone just in Maple Valley, and all the bacteria from their poop goes down the drain,” said fifth-grader Maddie Parker.
Fifth-grader Hunter Say told the audience that anybody can create a rain garden. It’s as easy, he said, as disconnecting your downspouts and googling “rain garden handbook” (which leads to THIS step-by-step guide produced by Washington State University).
“You can do this at home, everybody — even Mr. Betlach who I see right there,” said Hunter, pointing to his teacher in the crowd.
Brandon Betlach, a fifth-grade science teacher at Glacier Park, later praised the partnership between the city, the school district and the Friends of the Cedar River Watershed.
“This is a wonderful way to educate the public on simple steps that can be taken to help our environment,” Betlach said. “And I love that the education is starting at the elementary level.”
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