Students Link Learning to Real-World Science

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Thursday September 13, 2012

On a steamy, summer-like Thursday afternoon, 4th grade students in Chris Provost’s class were busy putting textbook science concepts into practice outside their own school. The students energetically and happily took turns hauling wheelbarrows full of soil from a nearby pile and depositing it into what will become the school’s second rain garden. The process of developing the garden ties directly into what they are learning about erosion in science class.

According to Rebecca Tharp, Water Resources Manager at the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District, “The Chamberlin Rain Garden project is funded by the Chittenden County Stream Team ( and Let it Rain ( grant/let-it-rain).  The project began last fall (2011) with a S. Burlington school teacher inspired to link the classroom learning of his 4th graders to real-world science and community service in action. Provost noticed that the water that pours off of the roof at the entrance to the school was pouring onto the sidewalk and onto the parking lot where it picked up speed, volume and pollutants as it raced toward the storm drain.  Runoff from impervious surfaces is a major water quality concern in Vermont and contributes to poor water quality, stream impairment, phosphorus loading in Lake Champlain and stress on fisheries.  Reducing the volume of that water is as easy as encouraging it to infiltrate close to where it lands.  In the case of Chamberlin, that is happening with the installation of rain gardens at the base of their downspouts where permeable soils and plants inhabit a landscape depression.  This natural holding area allows water to slowly percolate into the soil where pollutants are filtered out and pathogens are removed.  Even better, that water that would be a nuisance and a threat becomes a resource as it recharges ground water and contributes to consistent and slow release of a cleaner water source to our waterways.” 
After the first rain garden was installed last fall the water no longer pooled or ran into the walking and parking areas and to the storm drain. Instead, that runoff goes directly to the garden where it soaks in and contributes to a beautiful landscaping feature near the school’s entrance. The positive impact of the first rain garden inspired Provost to implement a second phase to the project where there is another downspout and more land that connects to the existing garden. He worked steadily beside his students along with resident and Chamberlin parent Bern Scarp, a master gardener from UVM who was volunteering his time along with Ms. Tharp. Many plants have been donated and will become a lasting part of this garden. Ms. Tharp said Provost is, “excited about continuing the effort and seeking ways to impact water quality on the school’s campus and beyond—with his students as perennial helpers and learners.” 

The compost, gravel and soil for this project were donated by Let It Rain. South Burlington Department of Public Works donated the trucks for use.

Individuals interested in becoming involved in some of the storm water projects happening in Chittenden County can visit  Keen to try out low impact development (LID) strategies on your own property?  The Let it Rain storm water program is offering financial incentives for property owners who install rain gardens, rain barrels, dry wells, cisterns, permeable pavers, green roofs and other water storing, infiltrating or conveyance methods. To learn more, visit grant/let-it-rain. The Winooski Natural Resource Conservation District manages all of these efforts and designed a manual about how to place, design and build your own rain garden. A PDF of that publication can be found at and by clicking on the “rain gardens” link to the left.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent