Laurel Leader

Laurel Elementary students practice storm water management

Laurel Elementary School has adopted a Clean Water Partnership pilot program set up to prevent runoff on school grounds and other properties throughout Prince George's County.

On Tuesday, the school's Green Team of fourth- and fifth-graders planted pollution-filtering weeds in one of its two new storm water management gardens.


The storm water management gardening project stems from a 30-year partnership agreement between Prince George's County and Corvias Solutions environmental consultants in March 2015, said Tasha Brokenberry, Clean Water Partnership's community outreach manager. The pilot program is currently underway at 18 Prince George's County public schools and teaches students to practice storm water runoff treatment through best management practices, including bio-retention cells, sand filters and marshes.

Projects are paid for using funds from the county's Clean Water Act fee, Brokenberry said.


Two gardens located out front and on the side of Laurel Elementary were created for about 100 plants to capture rainwater and runoff, she said, which would otherwise travel into and pollute the Patuxent and Anacostia watershed areas and lead into Chesapeake Bay.

"I think the most important thing that we want to teach students is it starts with you," Brokenberry said. "We all have different agencies and departments … that are tasked with taking care of the grounds and making sure that the community is environmentally friendly and safe. However, we want students to learn about things they can do within their own homes … that can contribute to the success of the community's environmental wellbeing."

Brokenberry said Prince George's County and Corvias Solutions also collaborate with other organizations and businesses within the partnership, including churches and private properties. The goal is to retrofit up to 4,000 acres in storm water infrastructure over the next 30 years, hiring local minority businesses to design, build and maintain the storm water drains.

On Nov. 15, Laurel Elementary Green Team coordinator Patricia Walker led 10 team students to the front of the schoolyard, where they met with the leaders of companies who designed and constructed the gardens: Bradley Site Design, Soltesz Engineering and Nardi Construction.

Curtis Stonestreet, senior project manager for Beltsville-based Nardi Construction, said the contractors began digging the two micro bio-retention ponds at Laurel Elementary in mid-August, using design drawings created by Soltesz Engineering and Bradley Site Design.

Construction wrapped over the weekend, which involved removing dirt; installing sand, gravel and micro bio-retention soil; and modifying storm water lines. Nardi Construction completed a similar project at Francis Scott Key Elementary School, he said, with others underway at District Heights Elementary School and Gwynn Park High School.

"A lot of the schools have taken this opportunity for a learning moment to explain to the kids what happens to the water after it flows through these micro bio-retention ponds and into whichever river. It all ends up in the bay," Stonestreet said. "The kids really take a lot of pride and pleasure in being involved with the process."

Sharon Bradley, of Bradley Site Design, and Ariel Trahan, Anacostia Watershed's director of education, later demonstrated to the students a scenario of pollution using food dye to represent oil and glitter to represent trash that may flow into the garden. Trahan said the garden's pervious surfaces will allow the soil to collect water and filter out pollutants, such as brake fluid or garbage, while the previous impervious surfaces did not absorb water and created run off.


"We had two drains that were very badly deteriorated," said Walker, who is also the school's media specialist. "A lot of sediment, rocks and garbage were getting washed into the storm drains. The county came in and revamped those storm drains so that we won't have that sediment and pollution getting into the storm drains. Now, we're planting gardens around those drains to act as a secondary filter before the storm water gets washed into the Patuxent."

As the group stood over the dozen potted plants, students put on gardening gloves to transfer the Maryland-native Joe-pye weeds from their black plastic containers and into the soil. After massaging the roots, students used trowels to the dig holes.

When fourth-grader Destiny Carrington sees trash lying around at Laurel Elementary School, the 9-year-old student says it's her duty to help clean up and prevent pollution of the nearby Patuxent River. By introducing these plants into the school environment, Destiny said they will help the Chesapeake Bay stay clean.

"It is important to me because I like to see cities clean and not dirty [with] trash all over the ground or oil everywhere," Destiny said. "When people walk around and if they throw things on the ground, I will try to pick them up and throw them in the trash or recycling."

Every school day, Destiny said that she'd be sure to stop by the local gardens to clean up any trash. Fellow fourth-grader Christopher Tyler, 10, said he will join her and was excited to start planting more things at home.

"I like that I had the privilege to plant the plants and I like that I can help the community," Christopher said. "It's important because animals need to stay alive and the world can stay a clean place. I hope I can keep doing this for the rest of the school year."


As the garden grows, Walker said students will continue other green initiatives throughout the year, including trash pick-ups around the school as well as its yearly trash cleanup at Riverfront Park.

"Storm water is the number one pollutant around here and that is completely human-created," Walker said. "I think it's very important to educate our youth so that we're making lifelong learners. This is a passion of mine to help our students become stewards of our resources. They have to realize if they want it in the future, they have to take care of it now."