Schools build lasting “earth partnerships”

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 06:54 PM

What do a compacted piece of earth, a boring school day and lack of native habitat have in common? As Barb Kanoy’s students found out, they can all be overcome with schoolyard ecological restoration.  

Seventh-grade science teacher Kanoy had already built a rain garden at her school with an after-school club she sponsored. The rain garden soaks in and filters stormwater runoff from the school roof and sidewalks. Then she attended the Earth Partnership for Schools (EPS) Institute. Sponsored by the N.C. Botanical Garden and Durham’s stormwater and GIS Services division, the week-long workshop prepares teams of teachers to create native habitat gardens on school grounds. The idea is to restore little bits of schoolyards to improve the environment and give students an outdoor learning laboratory. The EPS toolkit includes everything from site evaluation to inquiry-based lessons on insects to art projects.

When most EPS teachers learn to help students build a garden to attract pollinators or soak in stormwater, they are starting from a compacted piece of earth. Kanoy and her students already had a beautiful garden, so she used her EPS knowledge to launch further investigations. Kanoy’s seventh graders spent an entire semester this year researching the erosion problem at their school. After learning from experts and other sources, students used models, videos and presentations to show their recommended course of action. The models depicted before-and-after scenarios for rain gardens, green roofs and a dry stream bed running through campus. Students became engineers solving real problems, ecologists thinking about natural systems and marketers selling their ideas to school administrators.

EPS helps teachers use the curriculum they already have in a way that makes lessons matter. Solving a real environmental problem on the schoolyard builds pride and creates lasting memories. Building skills in site analysis, map creation, species selection, and scientific inquiry prepares students for college and careers. And it’s fun. 

EPS is one of many environmental education teacher workshops being offered this summer. The calendar at has the most complete listing. Here in Durham, offerings include Project Learning Tree, Project WET, Food Land and People, Soil Solutions, and WOW! The Wonders of Wetlands.  Teachers who attend any of the workshops walk away with a guide and other resources to help them teach engaging, hands-on lessons in science and other disciplines. Teachers also meet local professionals that may become guest speakers on water, stormwater or soils topics. Enthusiastic teachers may even follow in Kanoy’s footsteps and return to help teach the workshops.

Laura Webb Smith is public education coordinator for the City of Durham Public Works Department, Stormwater and GIS Services. For more information about local workshops, contact her at  (919) 560-4326, ext. 30235 or To learn more about the stormwater & GIS services division, visit or “like” on Facebook at