Shaler Area High School students, with the help of local experts, installed a rain garden behind the high school.
By: James Engel, Shaler Area High School senior
Students from Shaler Area’s Gifted and Talented program, with help from other organizations, installed a rain garden in the rear of Shaler Area High School. This garden will help to educate students in ecology and horticulture.
A rain garden is a generally small section of soil that is dug out and used to capture water that would otherwise be runoff. This water is used by plants and can improve soil erosion and the quality of the landscape.
Shaler Area’s Gifted and Talented (GATE) program is very involved with the Fairchild Challenge competition through Phipps Conservatory in Oakland. These competitions feature a variety of ecology-based ideas and challenge students from different schools to develop plans for a greener and more sustainable plan for the future.
One of last year’s challenges, called ‘Green Stormwater Solutions,’ asked students to design a way to capture and use stormwater at their high schools that would potentially be wasted. Current juniors Jaime Eichmiller, Caitlin Fedorek, Alyssa Juzwick, Dakota Carr, and Olivia Jarzynka, along with current sophomores Anna Sheets and Rebecca Schiavone began to develop ideas for the project.
“The girls put together a big plan... part of that plan was to include a rain garden by the greenhouse,” GATE sponsor Christina Palladino said.
To develop this plan, the team consulted Donna Pearson of the Girty’s Run Watershed Association, a local conservation group based in Millvale.
“I provided resources and helped to calculate how much runoff can flow from an area and how to build a rain garden that could capture that amount,” Pearson said.
Following this, Pearson applied for a grant through the Allegheny County Conservation District to make this hypothetical idea a reality.
“I found this grant... it seemed like a perfect idea because they had already started and put so much work into it,” Pearson said.
The team was given the grant, worth over $6,700, and began work on the physical implementation of the garden outside.
“We went out in the snow to measure the plot, it took a while, but ultimately, we got it,” Fedorek said.
The team then contacted DECO Resources, a landscape architecture and environmental design firm based out of Pittsburgh. DECO Resources began drawing schematics and plans for the placement of the garden, and eventually dug out what would become the garden’s basic structure.
On October 25, 2019, several of the GATE students collaborated with Anthony Stewart, the owner of DECO Resources, and Pearson to begin the planting process.
“We had a lot of fun learning about the different types of soil and planting the different flowers and bushes that we picked out,” Juzwick said.
The students chose a variety of plants native to Western Pennsylvania to inhabit the rain garden. The main feature is a spicebush that sits in the deepest part of the small depression. It is still a sapling, but will grow to become larger in scale.
Many hours of work have been put into the rain garden, but as the seeds grow, this work will have a physical representation. The students hope that the new seeds and saplings will survive the winter, but to ensure the growth of Shaler’s ecological interest, they are planning a second planting to coincide with Earth Day.