Seaford School District Celebrates Its First Schoolyard Habitat

This is a guest post by Margo McDonough of Delaware Nature Society.

“What’s the name of the river here in your community?” asked Frank Piorko, director of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s watershed division.

“The Nanticoke!” responded a chorus of excited second-graders at Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Seaford, Delaware.

If asked, most of these students also could have rattled off the names of the tributaries that feed into the Nanticoke, details about what a watershed is, and the many benefits of a rain garden. They’ve been learning their “watershed address” and connection to the Chesapeake Bay through education programs provided by the Delaware Nature Society (DNS) over the last year.

Students planting garden at Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Seaford, Delaware.
Students plant garden at Frederick Douglass Elementary School.
They wouldn’t have to go far to show Piorko a rain garden as the occasion for his visit was the dedication of the Frederick Douglass’s Schoolyard Habitat, which contains a rain garden, a pond and other wildlife habitats.

Even Ranger Rick, the friendly raccoon mascot of the National Wildlife Federation, dropped by for the dedication, which was held in mid-June, right before school let out for the summer. Jason Beale, manager of DNS’s Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, asked Ranger Rick what he thought of the new rain garden and was greeted with a big, furry thumbs-up. (If Ranger Rick could talk, he probably would have said, “This rain garden rocks!”)

Throughout the spring, the students learned how rain gardens purify water, reduce flooding and provide wildlife habitat—and look beautiful while doing all that. Best of all, they learned that rain gardens are a lot of fun to build. In late spring, they installed the schoolyard habitat in the front lawn of their school, with a smidgen of help from their teachers, and from Burr Monroe, DNS’s certified wildlife habitat coordinator.

“This was a great project to work on,” said Monroe. “The kids were so excited about planting the schoolyard habitat. And I was impressed by the fact that the school saw to it that every student participated.”

Rain gardens are shallow depressions, planted with deep-rooted plants, that are positioned near sources of run-off, such as downspouts, driveways and sump pumps. They’re designed to slow down stormwater and prevent runoff from polluting local rivers and streams.

“Rain gardens are a sustainable and economic way of dealing with rainfall as nature intended,” said Ginger North, associate director for natural resources conservation at the Delaware Nature Society.

Partners for Pupils

The Frederick Douglass schoolyard habitat was made possible through a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation, Delaware Nature Society and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training Program. Additional support was provided by the Seaford School District, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Sussex Conservation District, and Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve.

And Frederick Douglass was just the start. Monroe also oversaw the installation of a schoolyard habitat at Blades Elementary in mid-May. In the fall, two more schoolyard habitats will be installed—one at Seaford Central and another at West Seaford Elementary.

“Schoolyard habitat gardens provide outdoor classrooms that can enrich children’s lives and improve their understanding of the natural world,” said Jen Mihills, Mid-Atlantic regional representative for the National Wildlife Federation. “These hands-on experiences build a foundation to foster the next generation of conservation-minded citizens.”

The National Wildlife Federation values the partnerships created by this project, added Mihills. “Through collaboration from all parties, we can make a meaningful difference for the community of Seaford, the Nanticoke watershed, and the Chesapeake Bay.”

The Frederick Douglass rain garden was planted exclusively with native trees, shrubs and perennials. Monroe chose a variety of water-loving species for the garden, including winterberry holly, river birch, sweetbay magnolia, butterfly weed, and black-eyed Susan.

For more information about how to install a rain garden or other wildlife habitat at your home or business, visit the Delaware Nature Society website.

About the Author

Margo McDonough is the public affairs coordinator for the Delaware Nature Society. She plans to install a rain garden at her own home. The Delaware Nature Society became the state affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation more than 20 years ago. It’s one of 48 state and territorial affiliates across the country.