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Below we will describe our experience with the Urban Rain Garden Project. We will tell you what we did, what we learned, what we would do differently next time. We will also include the resources we used along the way.
WHY DID WE START THE URBAN RAIN GARDEN PROJECT?
The Northern Rhode Island Conservation District educates and assists northern Rhode Island residents as they protect their communities water and soil. This includes both farmland and urban land.
NRICD had already been working with local businesses, homeowners and elementary school children. We wanted to teach local teenagers about local water quality protection.
Mike Merrill, from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, told us about Rain Gardens and how they are being used in different parts of the country. We learned that the average person can plant a Rain Garden next to their home or business, helping to protect the water around their home.
We realized that many Rhode Islanders did not know that this simple technique was available to them. We decided to train high school students to teach Northern Rhode Island residents about Rain Gardens.
To do this, the teens would first need to be taught about a Rain Garden's purpose and how to plant one. Then students would plan a publicity campaign to pass this information on to their city.
Finally, students would plant a demonstration Rain Garden in their community. An educational sign would be planted beside the garden to educate passerby.
As a result, local homeowners and businesses would learn about Rain Gardens and local teenagers would also learn through their environmental work.
We wanted to find high school teachers willing to try out our project with his/her students.
We found an Ecology class at Shea Senior High School (Pawtucket) taught by Mike Cordeiro and a Biology class at Woonsocket High School taught by Cathryn MacDonald and Elizabeth Shallcross. The teachers thought their students would benefit from the experience.
We applied for several grants. It took a while, but after a disappointment or two we were happy to receive both encouragement and financial support from three organizations also working on natural resources protection. These organizations were:
The sites for our demonstration Rain Gardens would need to be:
WE GOT PERMISSION TO PLANT ON TWO SEPARATE SITES
We found two potential sites, one on Woonsocket High School grounds and one at the Varieur Elementary School in Pawtucket.
We received encouragement and support for our project from staff at both schools.
The NRICD gets technical support from USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and they were partners in this project.
Mike Merrill (District Conservationist) and Joel Schmidt (Hydrological Engineer) went out to survey our Rain Garden sites.
They wanted to know the following:
The URI Healthy Landscapes Program at URI had recently published a list of native plants that could be used in Rain Gardens. We reviewed this list.
District Conservationist, Mike Merrill, researched his own resources from the Natural Resource Conservation Service Plants Database. We also used field journals, such as National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England.
From this, we came up with a list of what we would like to plant. These are the native plants we chose.
We purchased our plants through two local nurseries:
We asked the Pawtucket Department of Public Works if they would donate a backhoe and staff to dig the garden at the Varieur School. They willingly agreed to help in this community environmental project.
At Woonsocket, we decided to have the students dig their demonstration Rain Garden. This Biology class had several active, energetic students. Would some outdoor exertion balanced with some quiet in-class lessons create better learning? An opportunity for an education experiment.
In April 2005, we began to involve the two high school classes with the Urban Rain Garden Project. Our work with them went as follows:
Students write short essay
Students needed to understand a variety of topics before they could tell others about Rain Gardens. These lessons were given during Science class.
To view lesson plans, go to STUDENT LESSONS
Here are some ideas for more science lessons that could be used with The Urban Rain Garden Project:
The students were asked to teach the public about Rain Gardens. They discussed different ways they could do this and the following methods were chosen:
Groups were formed to work on each publicity method. A fourth group began to plan garden design.
Prior to garden digging we called
Pawtucket Demonstration Garden at Varieur Elementary School
Woonsocket Demonstration Garden at Woonsocket High School
For more information, go to HOW TO PLANT YOUR OWN RAIN GARDEN
In March, we placed our plant order with New England Wetland Plants and New England Wildflower Society. The plants were ready by our June planting date.
Shea Senior High Students plant a Demonstration Rain Garden
Another humid June day, three classes of Biology students planted a variety of native plants. For some, it was their first time gardening. Some students loved to work with the soil and plants, while other students preferred to helped distribute the drinks and snacks. It was an enjoyable experience for most of the students and teachers ... to be outside doing something active and useful.
The students told the school community about Rain Gardens by:
Articles published in local newspapers
Celebration held at Rain Garden site
As a first time experience, the Urban Rain Garden Project went well. What would we change next time?
Next time, we would work with the students off and on all through the school year rather than starting in spring. Ideally, students would become "Rain Garden experts" and plan publicity with minimal guidance. We did not have enough time for students to reach this level of independence.
Should the garden be dug by a backhoe or by students?
There are several lessons to be learned by digging a garden by hand. The physical experience makes lessons on soil types, plant requirements, water drainage, groundwater, and watersheds more understandable to students. Digging a garden by backhoe keeps students from this outdoor, sensory experience.
On the other hand, digging the garden by hand takes much time. Some of the days we were digging were really hot. Some students did not want to participate on these days.
Next time we would continue to experiment with garden design. We scattered plant types randomly. Later, when the plants bloomed, it looked like a small field of wild flowers. It would be interesting to see the effect of grouping plant types.
In summary, we thought the Urban Rain Garden Project was worthwhile for all participants. We all learned ... about gardening, the environment and our community. It also produced a useful product ... a working Rain Garden.