Head of the Class: Onslow County School System Gives Federation Award

JACKSONVILLE – The N.C. Coastal Federation received an award from Onslow County schools for helping an elementary school in Swansboro build a rain garden to control flooding and to teach students about stormwater pollution.

The school system gave the federation its annual Businesses Assisting Schools in Educating Students Award at a reception at Northside High School in Jacksonville yesterday.

During the 2010-2011 school year, Queens Creek Elementary School was experiencing serious flooding on its campus. Brandon Beard, a third-grade teacher at the time, began working with Sarah Phillips, a federation educator, on a rain garden project to address the flooding problem and to teach the students about stormwater and rain gardens.

“Mr. Beard’s class worked in the gardens and he also took volunteer classrooms that wanted to help. I would say about 100 some kids worked on the gardens that year,” said Rebecca Harris, a second-grade teacher at Queens Creek.

Beard has since moved away, so Harris took over the rain garden project.

The school rain program at started in 2006 at Manteo Middle School. The federation helped the school apply for grants to plant two large retention basins. Middle school students, teachers and volunteers initially planted over 600 native species of trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses.

Sarah Phillips explains the wonders of wonders of rain gardens to White Oak Elementary students.

Another school that successfully partnered with the federation is White Oak Elementary School in Cape Carteret in Carteret County. In 2009, that school installed three rain gardens that helped keep their parking area free from standing water, which had been an issue at the school for years. Since the gardens were installed, the school has had a year-round “Rain Garden Club” to learn about and maintain the gardens after school hours.

Additional schools that have partnered with the federation include Annunciation Catholic School and Arthur W. Edwards Elementary School in Craven County, Chocowinity Middle School in Beaufort County, Smyrna Elementary School and Tiller School in Carteret County, Swansboro Elementary School in Onslow County, Bradley Creek Elementary School in New Hanover County and First Flight elementary and middle schools in Dare County.

During a rain garden project, students learn about stormwater runoff, native plants and local wildlife.

“Last year after the runoff lesson with Sarah, Mrs. Reid’s third-grade class worked on adding plants to the small rain garden and my second- grade class added plants to the larger rain garden. The federation donated some of the plants and Queens Creek Elementary bought some,” Harris said.

She added that she plans to have Phillips back for the runoff pollution lesson and is encouraging other classes to take advantage of having her visit their classrooms.

Students carefully planting.

In addition to Phillips’ time at Queens Creek, the federation was also instrumental in securing a grant to help pay for the project, according to Debbie Harper of the Onslow County Schools.

“We have 37 schools in our district; the schools provide the information to me. We ask them to give us the names of organizations and businesses that have donated time and or money to their school,” she added.  “I then compile all the schools’ reports together.  There are no judges; it is based on what your company contributes that school year.”

Some of the ways businesses and organizations can help at local schools are: tutoring students, serving as mentors for at-risk students and resource speakers, assisting teachers and staff, financing mini-grants of $250 or more for individual schools or teachers, sponsoring teacher scholarships for  training and serving as a volunteer at field day, career day and other special projects.

Lexia Weaver, coastal scientist for the federation, adds that “the goal of our schoolyard rain garden project is to teach the students about stormwater runoff and its negative effect on the water quality of our coastal waters. At the same time, we engage them in hands-on environmental restoration as they help to plant the rain garden, and they also learn about ways to reduce stormwater runoff in their own neighborhoods and yards.

“The N.C. Coastal Federation is very happy to be working with our local schools and educating the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Schools interested in partnering with the federation on a rain garden project or in learning more about the other educational opportunities for students can contact one of its educational coordinators: Phillips along the central coast, Sara Jean Hallas along the northern coast or Ted Wilgis along the southern coast.

About the Author

Annita Best

Annita Best has a BS in journalism from Culver-Stockton College in Canton, MO, and a MBA from Boston University. She has lived in coastal North Carolina since being stationed here in 1987. She is currently a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.