Extension program teaches youth, adults about importance of managing stormwater

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Excess stormwater is a growing problem in Pennsylvania and across the country, contributing to water pollution, flash floods and other issues. To help youth and adults understand and reduce the impacts of stormwater, Penn State Extension has launched a new curriculum titled "Rain to Drain — Slow the Flow."

"When it rains in your community, where does the water go?" asks Jennifer Fetter, Penn State Extension watershed and youth development educator based in Dauphin County. "As our communities grow, we change the Earth's surface, leaving little room for rain water to soak into the ground. Instead, it becomes runoff which leads to flash flooding and water quality issues."

Fetter noted that there are innovative ways to continue developing a community while maintaining or creating new places for water to enter into the soil instead of becoming runoff.

"Teaching others about these development practices and the need for them has been a challenge," she said. "That's why we created 'Rain to Drain — Slow the Flow.' This online book is a hands-on way to engage youth and adults in learning about stormwater. Using simple, low-cost and easy-to-get materials, anyone can participate in this fun science experiment."

Although developed as a 4-H curriculum, "Rain to Drain" can be used by community groups, in school classrooms, by after school clubs, and even by individuals, according to Fetter. The program is designed to teach about the movement of stormwater through natural and developed ecosystems — covering concepts such as runoff and groundwater infiltration, impervious surfaces, green infrastructure, human impacts on the environment, flooding and other topics.

"It was written with middle-school-aged youth in mind but is easily adaptable to younger and older audiences, including the public," Fetter said. "It can be used as an ongoing classroom experience or a fast-paced demonstration at a community event."

Fetter piloted the program at the beginning of this school year with about 150 seventh-grade students in the Harrisburg City School District. After completing the curriculum, the students went out onto school property to identify stormwater problems firsthand. As a result, they organized a tree planting on a hillside below their school and a trash cleanup on the streets and sidewalks. They also identified two storm drains around the school that were clogged and not functioning properly.

After contacting Capital Region Water, which is responsible for the city stormwater system, the students observed as the storm drains were cleaned and learned about potential careers with the city's water authority.

The project was beneficial to the students at Rowland Academy, said Evelyn Wassel, GEAR UP-3 academic coach for the Harrisburg School District. "It broadened their perspective to see that their choices can affect areas outside their neighborhood and that they can positively impact their environment with even small changes," she explained. "It inspired some students to continue working on decreasing stormwater runoff through their work in the EXPLORE program after school."

Post-tests of students at Rowland Academy and a control group of students at another school in the district that did not participate in the "Rain to Drain" curriculum showed there was a statistically significant difference in knowledge of stormwater science between the two groups. "Several months after finishing the experiment, students at Rowland continue to have a significantly higher understanding of the stormwater problems that affect their community and potential solutions to those problems," Fetter said.

"Rain to Drain — Slow the Flow" currently is available as a free, online download from the Penn State Extension Water Quality website.

Last Updated January 27, 2016