West Hills STEM Academy in Bremerton is putting its rain water to use for the environment and for education. Students, teachers and community members gathered on Tuesday to officially open the school’s new rain garden.
The rain garden is a small pond-like area filled with mulch and native plants. It collects the water that runs off the nearby building and filters it down into the habitat of the garden.
“Instead of running it into the sewers and out into puget sound … it comes in here and it’s designed so that the water will fill the pond up and then it will sink into the ground,” said Terry Cox. “You minimize the amount of runoff going out into the Sound.”
Cox and several others from Leadership Kitsap worked on the project with the school to make the garden a reality. Cox’s group secured a grant through Kitsap Conservation District, an organization that works with businesses and property owners to zone rain gardens throughout the county.
The school was able to get all the plants and soil donated in addition to the grant, said Elizabeth Hoey from the Holly Ridge Center.
While much of the labor was donated or provided through grant funding, the rest was provided by the students of West Hills themselves.
“The students did a lot of work. It was amazing how much they stepped up to the plate and offered their services,” said Teresa Brooks of Kitsap Conservation. “They would even miss a recess in order to do that.”
Students helped clear the site, transport and fill the garden with mulch, and plant the garden.
Before any planting could take place, though, the students had to find out what native plants would survive best in the wet environment of the rain garden. West Hills teacher Andrea Tee said her students spent time researching different plant species and figuring out where each should be planted.
The rain garden will be used by teachers at West Hills to educate students about water runoff and pollution, among other topics.
“It’s a really great opportunity,” Tee said. “We are out here all the time.”
The rain garden sits at the entrance to the school’s Outdoor Learning Center, a sprawling wooded piece of land the school uses for hands-on environmental science work.
Classes at West Hills utilize the learning center on a regular basis, leaving the classroom and heading out into nature about twice a week.
Teacher Hannah Meucci said students have been working with West Sound Network to create a Geographic Informational System (GIS) map for the learning center’s woodlands.
“We’re doing nature mapping, so we’re identifying all the plants and animals within the (learning center) and then kind of putting a GIS map together,” Meucci said.
At the moment, the trail system is rather rugged, lacking trail signs or any interactive trail information, Meucci and Tee said. But they’re hoping to change that in the future by further developing the land in partnership with local groups that might be interested.
They also hope to start growing fruits and vegetables to supplement the rain garden.
“We would really like to be able to grow and produce our own fruits and vegetables so that our students really have a role in being healthy,” Tee said.
A few hurdles still stand between the school and a vegetable garden, however. It would have to be maintained during the summer, when no faculty or students are at the school.
“There has to be someone, community members who are invested in it, who want to come and harvest and make sure it’s watered and all that,” Meucci said.
For the time being, the vegetable garden and trail updates are still a ways off, but the first steps have been taken and the Outdoor Learning Center, like West Hills itself is continuing to grow and develop.
“The rain garden was the first step,” Meucci said, “so hopefully we’re on our way.”