Teacher and Students Build Rain Garden While Social Distancing

By Shari Halik, Communicator
July 16, 2020

Ruth Beecher, a fifth and sixth-grade teacher at Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro, Vermont, learned how to construct a pollinator rain garden to reduce stormwater runoff and pollutant movement to streams and lakes. Then she taught her students. With a little bit of social distancing and a lot of help from families, Beecher and 14 of her students created and planted the rain garden at the school this spring.

The path to her rain garden began in fall 2019, when Beecher took a University of Vermont (UVM) course on stormwater education with Lake Champlain Sea Grant education and outreach staff. She brought what she learned into her classroom and taught her students about stormwater and practices, such as rain gardens, that can mitigate stormwater runoff in their local watershed.

She completed her year-long study with the installation of a pollinator rain garden. During this spring’s COVID-19 school closure and social distancing requirements, Beecher had each of her students’ families sign up for a 30-minute planting slot over a three-day period to complete the garden during the first week in June.

“After teaching remotely for over two months, it was such a joy to see my students in person, albeit with masks and no hugs allowed,” said Beecher.

With plants obtained at Rockydale Nursery, in Bristol, Vermont, through grant funding from the Tari Shattuck Education Foundation, each student chose a Vermont native pollinator to plant in the garden. During the winter, Beecher’s students had researched which perennials would be best for the site.

“It was amazing during COVID-19 to do a bit of our ‘usual’ teaching and learning — outdoor education and hands-on work involving the stormwater education project we had started way back in the fall,” said Beecher. “I am thrilled that my students can watch these perennials come back year after year and know that they are helping to prevent stormwater runoff as well as providing blooms for pollinators.”

View the installation of the class’ rain garden in this video:


The Stormwater Education Methods course, taught by Lake and Watershed Education Coordinator Ashley Eaton and Extension Leader Kris Stepenuck, provides professional development for in-service teachers, like Beecher, and pre-service teachers who are undergraduate students at the University of Vermont. They learn the key concepts about watersheds, stormwater, and using nature-based solutions, like rain gardens, to treat and minimize stormwater runoff and then implement the curriculum with upper elementary, middle, and/or high school students.

“The course is based on a curriculum called Soaking Up Stormwater Through Stewardship in the Lake Champlain Basin that former Lake Champlain Sea Grant staff member, Sarah Coleman, created a few years ago in partnership with the Lake Champlain Committee,” said Eaton. “It was designed to help break down barriers to classroom participation in stewardship activities that can lead to reduced stormwater runoff to local waterways.”

This fall, in an effort to assist middle and high school teachers who may have to teach remotely and to meet needs of UVM students attending classes from other locations, the course will be taught fully online. Eaton and Stepenuck are preparing short video lessons to introduce the curriculum activities and facilitate engagement of not only participating teachers, but their middle and high school classes through asynchronous hands-on learning. In addition, they have lined up a series of stormwater management professionals who will share their expertise through virtual presentations throughout the fall semester.

“We are thrilled to see the outcome of Ruth and her class’ efforts, especially in light of the physical-distancing restrictions that are in place,” said Stepenuck. “Their efforts to establish a garden on their school grounds provides a multitude of benefits – from minimizing stormwater runoff, to providing pollinator habitat, to being aesthetically pleasing. It’s a fantastic outcome to celebrate.”