StormFest brings students from all over the Highline school district to Des Moines
By Lindsay Peyton
Des Moines Beach Park recently transformed into an enormous classroom for sixth grade students in the Highline School District.
The subject was stormwater—and the effects of pollution on the local watershed.
But instead of being stuck indoors and reading about the environment in a textbook, these students discussed the topics in a seaside park, located in 22030D Cliff Ave S in Des Moines. They were in an environment directly affected by the lesson.
Students broke into stations where instructors led them in exercises that provided a closer look on the damage stormwater can cause, as well as ways they can possibly mitigate it.
Take the solutions relay, for example. In the race, students have to model activities that would protect the watershed, like sorting recyclables and bringing toxic waste to the appropriate place.
The whole point of StormFest, after all, is to make learning about stormwater exciting and entertaining, Mary Eidmann, environmental education specialist for the City of Burien, explained. She helped create the event.
“It’s experiential, interactive learning,” she said. “They learn about stormwater but in a fun way. You absorb more that way.”
She explained that the Puget Sound Starts Here campaign has a “Drain Ranger” curriculum for teachers, but that most instructors did not have the time or resources to incorporate the course into their schedules.
The City of Burien received a $152,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology to adapt that curriculum into StormFest, a two-day event for Highline School District.
“We took the classroom lessons and objectives, and we used them in each station at the festival,” Eidmann said.
She said that Highline jumped at the opportunity—and the cities in the district partnered in making the festival possible. The City of Des Moines donated the park and staff. Normandy Park, SeaTac and King County also joined in the effort.
Burien brought in a consultant to analyze the best way to make the course appropriate for the various multicultural backgrounds of Highline students. As a result, the event included 17 on-site interpreters. All of the surveys and take-home materials for students are also translated into different languages so they can be shared with the whole family.
Eidmann said that surveys will be used to measure how successful the event was.
Her goal was for students walk away with new knowledge about the environment. “We want them to understand what stormwater is and how they contribute to it each and every day in their lives,” she said. “This empowers them to make a difference.”
Giving students tools to reduce stormwater pollution was a key part of the session, Elyssa Kerr, a naturalist with the Environmental Science Center, said.
The nonprofit dedicated to nature education and preservation, located in 2220 SW Seahurst Park Rd. in Burien, helped develop the curriculum for the festival.
“We want them to know what specifically you can do as a 6th grader,” Kerr said. “They walk away with an action they can take, something they can do, a concrete thing. And at the end they take a pledge that moving forward they will be part of those actions in their homes and community.”
Eidmann said that StormFest will return in October. She hopes to make this an annual event.
In addition, she plans to share the festival plans online so that other organizations can implement it as well. “We’re creating something that everyone can use,” she said.
Susan Wood, an instruction specialist with Highline, is looking forward to seeing the program continue.
“It’s so well organized, and they paid attention to include different languages,” she said. “There’s been a lot of positive feedback already from teachers and the different people we’ve talked to.”