A Culture of Sustainability Grows from a Rain Garden

Two students are crouched down planting plants in their newly installed rain garden at Sylvester Middle School.

With the help of EarthGen, an eighth grade science project has grown into a culture of sustainability and stormwater stewardship in the Highline School District.

It started when Katelen Phelan, a teacher at Sylvester Middle School in the Highline School District, was looking for a way to challenge her 8th grade science class with a problem-based unit on stormwater management. Knowing EarthGen’s commitment to providing custom support for schools, she reached out for help.

Sylvester’s Stormwater Stewards

With the needs of her students in mind, EarthGen helped Ms. Phelan develop an engaging Stormwater Stewards unit that concluded with students presenting their own stormwater solutions for their campus. EarthGen brought in experts in ecology, engineering, and stormwater management to give feedback on the students’ designs.

In culmination of their project, Sylvester students installed a large rain garden on campus, with guidance from EarthGen and support from Boeing, Seattle Sounders FC, and other community partners. Students planted native plants, removed invasive species, painted a mural, and created an interpretive sign in three languages.  

A group of students and volunteers gather around a pile of soil in preparation for spreading in a newly installed rain garden.

Inspired by the success of the initial Stormwater Stewards project, other teachers at Sylvester have partnered with EarthGen to develop hands-on science learning projects for their own classrooms. Subsequent projects have included a new pollinator pathway and raised garden beds, and an aquaculture program at the school. In 2020, EarthGen recognized Sylvester Middle School as a Green Medalist for their ongoing commitment to environmental learning. 

“EarthGen is inspirational. When I look at the work that our teachers are doing with our students and I see the products of that work – it would not have happened without that inspiration”

Gil Parsons, Principal, Sylvester Middle School

Stewardship Spreads Through the District

Students at Hilltop Elementary test out the benches in their new outdoor classroom.
Students at Hilltop Elementary test out the benches in their new outdoor classroom.
Seahurst Elementary students water plants in their new garden that borders their outdoor classroom.
Seahurst Elementary students water plants in their new garden that borders their outdoor classroom.

Sylvester’s culture of sustainability has spread across the school district. Now middle school students mentor younger ones, and assist with the design of new environmental infrastructure projects in elementary schools. In 2021, EarthGen led the installation of new rain gardens at Seahurst and Hilltop elementary schools, along with outdoor classrooms, journaling stations, and a healing garden filled with fragrant herbs. At Seahurst, the rain garden filters water from a new soccer mini-pitch donated to the school by the RAVE Foundation, a long-time EarthGen partner.

Across the district in Tyee High School, water quality testing is being used to teach chemistry concepts. Tyee students will also work with EarthGen to install rain gardens in containers to clean stormwater from campus rooftops. Students will strengthen their science skills by testing water quality at different stages of filtration.

Sustaining Stewardship

Sylvester Middle School deepens its commitment to environmental learning and action each year through its relationship with EarthGen, and continues to inspire other schools in the district. Today environmental learning is being embedded across Highline Public Schools, and students are growing the skills, knowledge, and confidence to become environmental leaders in their community. With EarthGen’s support, what started with one teacher in one school has grown into a district-wide culture of sustainability.