StormFest wins 2019 Livable Communities Award for Local Government Excellence


StormFest’s collaborators created, tested and delivered the program, led by Burien, the cities of SeaTac, Des Moines, Normandy Park, and partners Futurewise, Environmental Science Center, King County Stormwater, and the Highline School District, funded by a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology). Drain Rangers curricula were adapted by the team to create outdoor lessons. Drain Rangers meets state and federal education requirements was supported under another Ecology grant.

Staff from Burien, SeaTac, Des Moines, Normandy Park, Futurewise, Environmental Science Center, and King County worked to make the two day event a learning event for students – and participants. Lessons were delivered in Spanish, paid community volunteers helped with interpretation, and volunteers – including staff, were trained in best practices on  teaching English language learners, gang issues, and students with access or learning needs.

Several city and county employees volunteered at StormFest, the two-day outdoor science festival for over 1,200 sixth grade students from the Highline School District, hosted twice in 2018. StormFest focuses on experiential lessons about local water quality and stormwater education. It was a science lesson, field trip, and interactive learning experience all in one! Click to hear about the event from the volunteers.

King County volunteers from left to right: Janet Credo, Jeanne Dorn, Alison Sienkiewicz, Jon Polka, and Mary Rabourn (other King County volunteers not pictured are Don Althauser, Matt Goehring), June, 2018.

Jon Polka, an engineer and King County volunteer said, “this event is important for sixth graders because it helps them build an awareness about their local environment and the effects of pollution on our local waterways.”

The sixth graders rotated through six different stations throughout the day: macroinvertebrates, pollution prevention outreach, schoolyard solutions, a community action relay, a watershed model, and low tide exploration. King County employees volunteered as station educators at the community action relay station, at the watershed model station, as floaters and to help oversee interpreters.

Jon Polka, a King County volunteer, using the EnviroScape model to show stormwater pollution throughout a watershed.

Highline School District has a rich cultural and linguistic diversity among their students. Nearly half of the students that participated at StormFest come from families where English is not the primary language spoken in their home. StormFest was a great opportunity to provide a learning experience for all students by integrating several best practices into the curriculum. For example, station educators received training on communicating with English language learners, such as modeling what they wanted the students to do, rather than just telling them verbally.

“At the relay station we were describing to the students what they needed to do on each leg of the relay as well as showing them what we meant,” said Alison Sienkiewicz, a King County station educator at the community action relay station. At this station, students teamed on and competed in a relay race of pollution prevention actions: bagging and throwing (fake) dog poop into the garbage, properly disposing of waste into compost, recycling, and garbage bins, and planting native vegetation.

The station educators also encouraged the students to work together so English Language Learners (ELL) could learn from their peers.

“Trying to reach all kinds of learners using different communication modes was an excellent idea. Trying to use the power of sixth grade ‘peer pressure’ and the way kids can sometimes teach each other better than we adults can were brilliant reminders,” said Jeanne Dorn, another King County station educator at the watershed model station. At each watershed station there was an EnviroScape model, which students can use to see how pollutants cause water quality problems in a watershed.

“In one memorable instance, a child asked why pollution in the local waterways wasn’t as visible as it was in the Enviroscape model,” said Jon Polka. This sparked a conversation about the size of Puget Sound waters, comparing the scale of the model to real life. These kinds of questions and interactions help students realize that although stormwater pollution may not always be visible to our eyes, it still persists and is affecting our watersheds.

Students explored the low tide beach at Des Moines Beach Park as one of the stations at StormFest.

There were lots of questions over the two days, with great problem solving, and excellent team building.

“The best part of StormFest for me was the handful of times when some of the kids’ curiosity was ignited and they would ask questions that went beyond understanding how pollution moves through watersheds,” said Jon Polka.

Each student took a pledge at StormFest to take action of their own to improve stormwater in their community. The event pledge cards asked the students to tell one other person what they learned and described what actions they would take in their community.

“Simple actions like not throwing cigarette butts onto the ground, getting cars’ leaks fixed, avoiding pesticide and fertilizer overuse—all easy to learn and pass on to others,” said Jeanne Dorn.

StormFest was a great experience for our educators to help the students better understand how to convey their passion about science and engineering and how stormwater pollution affects our communities. By sharing actions we practice we can help reduce stormwater pollution.

This StormFest event was a field test, and based on surveys and observations, will be tweaked and offered again in October. For resources like Best Practices for English Language Learners, other project materials, or to find out how your organization may create your own local StormFest, contact Mary Eidmann, City of Burien at (206) 248-5511



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