In partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), IslandWood is facilitating stewardship projects that address issues affecting watersheds in our communities. Teachers with ideas for a project that could connect classroom learning to real-world environments were invited to apply for small grants to bring their project to life. Leschi Elementary School was one of the recipients of the Islandwood + EPA community action project grant! Read on to learn more from IslandWood Partnerships Manager, Celina Steiger about the project the school designed and completed.


Leschi’s new rain garden is RainWise!

Can you tell us a bit about Leschi Elementary’s project?


Yes! For the last couple of years, Seattle Public Utilities and Seattle Public Schools’ Self-Help Department have partnered with IslandWood to bring the RainWise program to schools. Students, teachers, and community members learn about stormwater through the process of building rain gardens or installing cisterns. The program shows students the connection between stormwater run-off and pollution and develops an understanding of how to manage stormwater run-off sustainably. This project included building a rain garden, installing two cisterns, and redesigning their garden to create an outdoor classroom.


Why was the school interested in building a rain garden?


Leschi has participated in IslandWood programs (School Overnight Program, Brightwater and Schoolyard programs) for years, so they were already thinking about educating their students on issues of wastewater and stormwater. With RainWise, they saw an opportunity to help students recognize that they could address stormwater issues in their community by collaborating with others, researching and testing potential solutions, and taking ownership by designing and planting a rain garden right on their school campus. In addition, the school was able to utilize existing Seattle Public Utilities funding to pay for most of the project.


These photos were taken over 18 days in Nov 2021. Planting occurred Nov 19. Photo credit: Benson Wilder (Leschi parent, PTA)


How was IslandWood involved in the project in addition to being the facilitator of the EPA funds required to complete the project?


I worked with Seattle Public Utilities to customize lessons for the two Leschi fifth grade classes, facilitated a co-design process with students and Seattle Public Utilities and planted the garden alongside Leschi 5th graders. The co-design process was so fun and energizing! In small groups, students were tasked with identifying which plants they wanted to grow in the rain garden, what shape they wanted it to be, and what else they wanted to have in the rain garden/outdoor classroom area.


What were the school’s goals with the project?


The project was really led by several people from the school community: the principal, Stephen Liu, parents involved with the PTA, Kate Faulkner and Benson Wilder, and 5th grade teacher, Valerie Chin. The group was excited to beautify their school, reduce stormwater runoff into Lake Washington, and have opportunities for students to share what they’ve been learning about stormwater with their community. In addition, the school and the RainWise team wanted to demonstrate to families how something as simple as creating a rain garden can help solve local flooding and pollution issues.


Leschi students planting in their new school rain garden.

How did Leschi go about designing the rain garden?


Initially, I co-led virtual lessons to 5th grade students with Erin Irby of Seattle Public Utilities. The lessons focused on stormwater and rain garden design, including a virtual tour of Leschi, to identify water drainage sites and existing campus green areas. Part of the learning process was to learn how plants and soil works well as natural filters and how to decide on the design of the rain garden, given their project sites.


Students broke off into five groups that researched plants, the rain garden shape, and additional features they wanted in the area around the rain garden. Then, they gave presentations of their design ideas to a panel comprised of parents, teachers, and faculty. The students were given feedback and set about deciding collectively on their favorite elements from the designs!


It is really important to the RainWise in the Schools partnership to get buy-in from students and build excitement about these projects. Our ultimate goal is to encourage the whole school community to understand why the rain garden is there, to feel like it’s a valuable space for outdoor learning and want to take care of it.


What is the potential impact the rain garden will have?


The impact is twofold. When it rains, the school will have an effective stormwater management space (or “green stormwater infrastructure”) that will lessen the amount of water entering the city’s combined sewer system and they will also have a valuable learning tool for all current and future Leschi students.


When will the rain garden be ready?


The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be this Spring, but the rain garden project was completed in November 2021. The students are enjoying the results of their hard work now! Ms. Chin shared, “When Leschi started to partner with IslandWood, we were remote. Even with all the barriers that come with remote learning, IslandWood partners were receptive to feedback and adept at thinking outside the box to get a more “hands-on” approach to incorporating student design and feedback! Students remained engaged and invested in their project as IslandWood staff prepared students with what they needed to build, design, and envision their rain garden space. What a wonderful program!”



  • Interested in creating a rain garden at your home? Read more about the RainWise program here!
  • Attend an upcoming RainWise event!
  • Learn about the drainage and wastewater system that Seattle Public Utilities manages and how it affects the way Seattle looks, feels, and functions here!



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