By Emma Foulk and Elizabeth Loudon
In 2019, Risa Suho was a senior at Kent Meridian High School and an intern at King County Wastewater Treatment Division’s Clean Water Ambassadors program. After learning about green ways to manage stormwater, she decided to write her first grant proposal. Her school received a $35,000 WaterWorks Grant to install a rain garden and cistern on school grounds and engage students through the school’s environmental club. Risa asserts this project “could address all the things I was passionate about: environmental justice, giving back to the community, and being able to do something for the environment.”
Now, three years and one pandemic later, Kent Meridian students, teachers, and community members celebrated the completion of the rain garden June 2, 2022. Risa finished high school before the project got started, and another student, Elisha Gill, led the project as Environmental Club president. Both Risa and Elisha kept in touch even after Elisha graduated in 2021, mentoring younger students, and attending the planting in April 2022.
According to Risa, “It was a very liberating moment where we realized we are just two people that managed to do something very incredible for our community.” This feeling was compounded by the fact that this project was, as Elisha states, “something that [they] dreamed about but never thought would actually happen.”
Students have led the project from the beginning and were involved in all aspects of garden design. Elisha describes the project as “infectious.” She says, “Students got more excited, and it created a whole student community that wanted to make a rain garden on campus.” Both Risa and Elisha agree that it is important to have a physical space for students to connect classroom material, to have what Risa calls a “kinesthetic learning experience.”
Kent Meridian High School has a very diverse student body, with 130 languages spoken at home; English, Spanish, and Punjabi are the most common languages spoken at home.
Kimberly Roberts, Environmental Club Supervisor, and science teacher sponsored and helped guide the project. Stone Soup Gardens was contractor that finalized the design, obtained permits, and managed the installation.
Risa says community support is what ultimately pulled the project through. “Projects seem impossible, but when you have the genuine support of communities, of mentors, and people who are willing to collaborate with you, it almost feels like you can accomplish anything.”
The 2,500-gallon cistern collects water from half of the school roof and slows the flow during rainy weather, with overflow going into the rain garden. The rain garden is also designed to slow the flow from the roof and adds bird and bee habitat to the school grounds.
For more information about the project, visit the class website at: https://www.kmraingarden.com/home.