AshleyBy Ashley Bryant Cheney
Environmental Educator
Bluegrass Greensource

School gardens are the perfect classroom, a living laboratory full of knowledge. As Environmental Educators, we are always excited about getting out in the school garden. These gardens are a perfect place to teach students about plant life cycles, compost piles, pollinators, soil composition, native and nonnative plants, and a host of other important environmental topics.

An increase in outdoor activity not only improves a student’s understanding of the environment, it has also been show to improve concentration, reduce obesity, improve nutrition, and even raise test scores. In a study conducted among 630 students at an elementary school in Kentucky, among grades 1-6, students’ test scores improved by 25% in science, 21% in reading, and 40% in social studies after integrating a school garden into the curricula (National Wildlife Federation, 2010).

School gardens, like environmental education, aren’t just for science. Gardens can be used to teach writing, math, social skills, and of course nutrition. For example, rain gauges can be used to teach measurement and volume, and students can calculate the amount of space needed for their plants while learning perimeter and area.

In the garden, we are able to connect students with real life examples of the concepts they are learning indoors. Earlier this month, I interviewed Kristi Fehr, Science Lab Teacher at Cassidy Elementary, about the value their school garden has brought to her teaching.

Last year at Cassidy Elementary, I led students on a water quality activity that introduced water runoff and taught them a few of the benefits of rain gardens. The garden at Cassidy Elementary combines a rain garden, raised beds, composting, and even a storm drain. For this activity, some students acted as water droplets while others acted as pollution. The pollution tried to tag the water droplets while travelling through the rain garden. Students were excited to participate in the activity and left with some key knowledge about water quality.

If you do not yet have a school garden or you have a school garden that is being underutilized, please contact Bluegrass Greensource, and an educator will be in touch with you to assist with your school gardening needs!

What it Takes: Installing a Rain Garden at Tates Creek High School

KaraBy Kara Sayles
Environmental Educator
Bluegrass Greensource

School Rain Gardens can add a lot to the aesthetics of the campus. They can also become the dreaded weedy spot that no one wants to be responsible for. The latter is not the case when we are talking about the rain garden on Tates Creek’s campus.

Elizabeth Inman, a Tates Creek High School Biology teacher, and Devan Robinson, a Tates Creek High School Green Team member, before the Rain garden installation.
The Tates Creek High School Rain Garden, after one year of growth!

Elizabeth Inman, a Tates Creek High School Biology teacher, and  Devan Robinson, a Tates Creek High School Green Team member, are featured in the photo of the initial rain garden construction. The garden was renovated last year, as a project for the High School‘s Green Team. It is in a triangular median between Tates Creek Elementary, Middle and High Schools and is highly visible to anyone coming onto the campus. It is an ideal location for a rain garden because stormwater can easily percolate through the area from the sidewalk and parking lot. Adding the deep rooted native plants in the rain garden can help pull the stormwater into the ground and decrease runoff from the campus.

Over the summer, Mrs. Inman contacted Bluegrass Greensource about working in the garden.  We scheduled a day to weed and check on the newly established plants. Once the garden was weeded, we identified and labeled the native plants that had survived the winter.

Mrs. Inman, along with Green Team members, continually cared for the garden over the summer months. They also added weed cover and mulch. The garden looks wonderful!

She has additional plans for student involvement with the maintenance of garden and even plans on adding some garden art. She is a splendid model for what it takes in making a school garden successful; her determination, dedication and pride in her school’s campus have gone a long way to make this garden great!

If you are interested in installing a rain garden at your school, contact Bluegrass Greensource! We have educational resources available, and staff are happy to answer your questions!

Tips for Caring for your Rain Garden:

– Label plants to help identify young native plants from non-desirable species of weeds
– Use shredded hardwood mulch to prevent weeds and add nutrients to the rain garden
– Until the rain garden is established water the garden at least once per week
– Pull weeds as needed
– Remove dead plants as needed
– Add plants as needed
– Thin the garden to prevent crowding
– Check with local gardening groups to see when a native plant exchange is happening to thin crowding and add diversity to your garden
– Add art, benches, bird baths and more to add extra interest in your garden