Green Schools

SLA Beeber and greenSTEM Grab Award for Drinking Water Week

SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
SLA Beeber students accept the Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award on May 4. Credit: Melissa Bittner, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.

For most people, watering the garden is an inexact science at best. At worst, unnecessary watering is a double whammy of waste: throwing away good, clean water while increasing the risk of plant problems like mildew and root rot.


But what if you could pop onto your computer or phone and tap into a system that tells you just how much moisture is in your soil, how much sun and heat your plants are getting, and when watering is needed?


That’s exactly what the students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber (SLA Beeber) in the city’s Overbrook neighborhood can do when they want to know whether it’s time to turn on the hose at the campus rain garden, and it’s all thanks to a Philadelphia Water partnership called the greenSTEM (that’s short for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Network.


From the greenSTEM website:


The greenSTEM Network connects students to real-time information about their school gardens. Through a collaboration between developers, scientists, designers, and educators, we provide public access to information collected by a network of low-cost, DIY sensor kits spread throughout the city for educational purposes. Our mission is to promote Philadelphia’s Green City, Clean Waters program through STEM education and support the development of the Fairmount Water Works Understanding the Urban Watershed curriculum.

The greenSTEM program’s high-tech network of garden sensors is getting attention during National Drinking Water Week (May 3-9) after the Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) honored SLA Beeber’s students with their annual Schuylkill Scholastic Drinking Water Award during a May 4 presentation. SLA Beeber was one of three award winners in 2015. SAN also honored Reading Area Community College in Berks County and Blue Mountain Middle School in Schuylkill County for projects they completed on their campuses.


SLA Beeber students worked with Philadelphia Water to build and install the environmental sensors, called “root kits,” in the rain garden and can now monitor soil moisture and temperature through a webpage that features an interactive tree where the colors of leaves indicate whether a garden needs watering.  Individual branches on the tree represent garden sensors at SLA Beeber, Greenfield Elementary in Center City, George W. Nebinger School in Queen Village and Cook-Wissahickon Elementary in Roxborough. 

“Projects like this one are very important for keeping the Schuylkill Watershed clean,” Tom Davidock, senior coordinator of the SAN at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, wrote on the group’s website. “Schools provide that direct link to communities and can teach all of us simple things we can all do to keep our rivers and streams healthy. The students at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber are involved in a small project that can have a big impact on the watershed.”


Congratulations to the students at SLA Beeber and all the people at Philadelphia Water who make the greenSTEM Network the incredible program that it is!


More About greenSTEM:
 The greenSTEM Network started as a collaboration between the Philadelphia Water and members of Code For Philly at the TechCamp hackathon in February 2013. This unique partnership between a city agency and civic hackers furthers the relationships between technology, education, and environmental stewardship. Grant funding for the greenSTEM Network is provided by NOAA’s Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. They have also received Seed Project funding from Drexel University’s ExCITe Center.

Grant Brings More Green to Lea School

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Porous pavement at the Lea School's playground. Photo credit: WPCNS.
Porous pavement at the Lea School's playground. Photo credit: WPCNS.

Our work to transform Philadelphia schoolyards into living laboratories composed of rain gardens, porous paving, trees and more is getting a big boost in the form of a $20,000 grant from the TD Green Streets program. The generous funding was awarded for Philadelphia Water’s ongoing Green City, Clean Waters green infrastructure improvements at Henry C. Lea Elementary School at 47th and Locust streets in the city’s Walnut Hill section.

The greening effort will involve planting a large shade tree area and street trees this summer–the finishing touches on the first phase of extensive green infrastructure improvements at Lea. This urban forest will be built over a new green stormwater management system.

A partnership between the Arbor Day Foundation and TD Bank, the Green Streets program “supports innovative practices in community forestry” by investing in “local forestry projects in low- to moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods,” according to the Arbor Day Foundation website. The Lea grant was one of 10 awarded to communities across the country, and we are extremely excited to be a part of the TD Green Streets program.

For this project, Green City, Clean Waters is partnering with the West Philly Coalition for Neighborhood Schools (WPCNS) on their “Greening Lea” project, which is transforming the 41,000-square-foot schoolyard into a vibrant and active school and community space. We have been working with WPCNS since 2012 when they participated in the Community Design Collaborative’s “Soak It Up!” design project, which sought to come up with green solutions for stormwater problem areas. We became more involved with their process when they were awarded a Philadelphia Water Stormwater Management Incentives Program (SMIP) grant in June of 2013. We have participated in their design process throughout.

In 2014, we enabled WPCNS to complete an early phase of the project when they partnered with the School District of Philadelphia to move a play structure from a recently closed school. They were able to remove the asphalt and install a water-porous rubber play surface under both the new and old play structures. The brightly designed surface created a single, cohesive space and reduced the impervious surface by 4,400 square feet.

This summer will see the completion of work that establishes the schoolyard as the primary entrance to the school with a new gate and signage. A series of outdoor play areas, including a shade tree area, a revamped basketball court, and lush rain gardens will welcome students, parents, and teachers.

With this project, everyone is a winner. Philadelphia Water is able to expand its greened acres and the school gets much-needed shade and landscaping in their schoolyard and surrounding neighborhood. Most importantly, the children can touch and see nature in a way that that brings their lessons to life.

Want a Greener School? PWD and Community Design Collaborative Can Help Guide You!

Save the Date: Join us on Monday, May 4 for a very special presentation and discussion.  

Mayor Nutter and Dr. Hite join George W. Nebinger students in a ribbon cutting for their green schoolyard on Earth Day 2015.
Mayor Nutter and Dr. Hite join George W. Nebinger students in a ribbon cutting for their green schoolyard on Earth Day 2015.

After years of bringing the benefits of green stormwater features to dozens of Philly schools through our Green City, Clean Waters plan, we’re ready to share what we’ve learned with communities here and around the country. The result? Transforming Philadelphia’s Schoolyards, a colorful, 44-page design guide to greening schoolyards made with the help of the Community Design Collaborative and their ace team of volunteers. 

The pioneering toolkit on schoolyard transformation will be presented on Monday, May 4, 2015 from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm at the Center for Architecture, 1216 Arch Street. The event will include a panel discussion featuring the leaders of three successful schoolyard makeovers, a green schoolyards resource fair, and opening remarks by Philadelphia School District Superintendent, William R. Hite. Jr. and PWD's Commissioner, Howard Neukrug. And, yes, you ARE invited!

We made this guide because there’s an ever-growing groundswell of communities seeking to reinvent Philadelphia’s mostly asphalt schoolyards as neighborhood spaces that foster learning, connection to nature and community. Transforming Philadelphia’s Schoolyards presents ideas, advice and stories drawn from PWD and the Collaborative’s work to design green schoolyards and manage stormwater—providing on-the-ground experience, case studies and guidance for motivated schools and communities across the city and country to do the same.

Through the Green City, Clean Waters plan, PWD is reimagining stormwater management citywide and sees schoolyards as ideal sites for green infrastructure. When PWD began working with the School District of Philadelphia, it recognized a need for a holistic approach to reinventing the schoolyard, and teamed up with the Collaborative, a non-profit providing preliminary architectural, landscape architectural, and engineering designs that incorporate the voices of schools, neighbors and communities. Having been with us since Green City, Clean Waters started nearly five years ago, the Collaborative's experience made them the perfect partner for this guide.  

Advocates for green schoolyards (including teachers, administrators, students, families, communities, designers, public agencies, and others) will gain inspiration and receive a complimentary copy of the design guide at the event.

You can RSVP for the event here. If you’re interested in making your community’s school a greener, brighter place, we hope to see you there!

Good Conversations, Good Community, Good Water: Big SandBox Lands Knight Grant

A handsome Knight Cities grant is helping The Big Sandbox foster a civic movement around greening Philadelphia’s Schoolyards. 

Big Sandbox Dig Philly Announcement Poster

Our green infrastructure projects are nothing without coordinated partnerships and a healthy dose of organic community input to help them take shape and grow. Now, thanks to a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Knight Cities Challenge grant*, The Big SandBox, one of our green school program partners, will have the means ($149,000 of it!) to make that happen at four Philadelphia schools. The Big Sandbox, a non-profit that “encourage[s] citizens, residents and students to participate in the planning, design and construction of their communities,” does fantastic work. We wholeheartedly congratulate them on receiving this award.

In order to make sure schoolyard improvements reflect the voices of the communities served by these schools, The Big SandBox is using the funds from Knight to launch a grassroots campaign called DIG Philly to create a true civic movement. Their efforts will use digital tools like social media alongside neighborhood organizing to create a consensus around fundraising, design, and construction at the schools as projects take shape over the next several years. DIG Philly was one of 32 projects selected by Knight (along with 6 others from Philadelphia) from a pool of more than 7,000 applicants!

We have to admit, we feel a bit like winners too, since the funding will support projects at four schools that we’re involved with: Horatio B. Hackett School, William D. Kelley, William McKinley and George W. Nebinger schools. All are targeted for renovations and improvements that include innovative green stormwater management as a part of our Green City, Clean Waters program and are aligned with The Big SandBox’s work to make schoolyards dynamic urban meeting spaces. Last year our work transformed an uninviting playground blacktop at Queen Village’s Nebinger School into a water-absorbing green space. The Big SandBox is currently working with community partners and the school to fundraise for additional playground improvements at the site. You’re invited to see and celebrate this transformational project at a special Earth Day ribbon-cutting on April 22.

Working with a partner like The Big SandBox allows Philadelphia Water to be a part of a more holistic change in schoolyards, one that not only helps the environment, but benefits the larger community as well. While public schools represent just two percent of impermeable pavement in the city, targeting them for Green City, Clean Waters improvements can yield an exponential value because of the audience – students and families. Managing stormwater at schoolyards doesn’t just make schools greener, calmer places; it has also been shown to improve student performance. And one of our favorite things about working at schools? These innovative installations provide a built-in educational tool that helps us teach our youngest citizens the importance of the goals central to Green City, Clean Waters. 

For more on The Big SandBox’s DIG Philly effort, visit www.thebigsandbox.org, follow them on Twitter at @greatbigsandbox or like at Facebook.com/thebigsandbox 

Knight's community and national initiatives program invests in civic innovators who help cities attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. The foundation believes that designing places to achieve these goals is crucial to city success.


Earth Day Ribbon Cutting at Nebinger School

Join Mayor Michael Nutter, US EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, Councilman Mark Squilla, School District of Philadelphia Superintendent, Dr. William R. Hite Jr., Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Executive Director Jennifer Adkins, Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug and Public Officials as we celebrate a national model for stormwater management and educational programming at George W. Nebinger School.

US EPA, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, PWD and other public and community partners have teamed up with the School District of Philadelphia on a project where Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) is used as a tool in the classroom, field, and laboratory, serving as a demonstration opportunity for students and the community.

The GSI systems featured at Nebinger include a rain garden, bioswale, a porous play surface, porous pavers, a below-ground basin and a landscaped border. These green tools beautify the space while helping to improve water quality and the health of our rivers. 

Join us!
Date: Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Time: 10:30 AM
Location: George W. Nebinger School, 601 Carpenter St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

To RSVP or for more information, please email Laura.Copeland@phila.gov or call 215-685-4902 

Webinar: Green Schoolyards and Citizen Science

The Philadelphia Water Department isn't just interested in managing stormwater at schools—we're leveraging opportunities to create outdoor classrooms that connect students to their environment. Join us on Monday, March 30 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. for Green City, Clean Waters: A Case Study for Greening Schoolyards in Philadelphia, a webinar presented by Toronto-based urban environmental organization Evergreen.

Lois Brink, chief strategist for the Big Sandbox, will share the successes of the Philadelphia Green Schools Alliance and discuss the creation of vibrant green spaces at our urban schools. Matthew Fritch, an environmental engineer with PWD, will detail the greenSTEM Network—an educational initiative to connect students to schoolyard rain gardens via low-cost, real-time sensor technology.

Registration for the webinar is free.

Urban Watersheds Curriculum Guide

The Fairmount Water Works, Philadelphia Water Department, Schuylkill Action Network, Environmental Protection Agency, EcoExpress, and the Partnership for Delaware Estuary released the Urban Watersheds Curriculum Guide this past year. This primary audience for the guide is K-8 educators. The curriculum guide takes students through a fascinating and complex narrative with its twist and turns, describing the urban water system. Those interested are individuals interested in making a connections between one of our most fundamental elements in life – water – and all of the complexities and responsibilities associated with accessing it, using it, cleaning it up and returning it to our waterways.

Both Nebinger School and Greenfield School tested the guide. Nebinger’s Middle School teacher, Rachel Odoroff, positively described her experience: “The lesson brings critical issues to life for students in a manner that is fun, engaging and meaningful,” she says, “At Nebinger Elementary, our students have welcomed this content, especially as they could draw, create, observe, experiment and discuss along the way!”

Explore the full curriculum guide and the accompanying on-line tools at resourcewater.org

Deadline Extension for Green City, Clean Water’s Art Contest!

The Partnership for Delaware Estuary has extended the deadline for the Green City, Clean Waters Art Contest. The new deadline for submissions is now March 7, 2014.

The art contest gives students in grades K-12 the opportunity to participate in Green City, Clean Waters by challenging them to create a drawing and/or video showing others how to stop polluted water from entering local storm drains.

The first place winner of each grade group will see their artwork digitally enhanced, enlarged and placed on streets in the City to act as visual reminders that only rain should go down the storm drain (not pollution!). Winning drawings will also be made into advertisements and used on SEPTA buses. Winning videos will be featured on the Partnership for Delaware Estuary, Philadelphia Water Department, and Fairmount Water Works websites. Additionally, winning individuals and teams will have the chance to win gift cards of up to $100 in value, a variety of art supplies for their schools, framed certificates, and a contest calendar featuring their artwork. Teachers of winning students will each receive $50 gift cards.

Click here to learn more about the art contest and to see last year’s winners.

Green City, Clean Water’s Art Contest

Image: 11 grade winner from last year's competition, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary is now accepting entries on behalf of the Philadelphia Water Department for its Green City, Clean Waters Art Contest! Students in grades K-12 can participate by creating a drawing and/or video showing others how to stop polluted water from entering local storm drains.

The first place winner of each grade group will see their artwork digitally enhanced and enlarged to be placed in the streets of Philadelphia to act as a visual reminder that only rain should go down the storm drain. Winning drawings will also be made into advertisements and used on SEPTA buses. Winning videos will be featured on the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Philadelphia Water Department Office of Watersheds, and Fairmount Water Works websites. Additionally, winning individuals and teams will have the chance to win gift cards of up to $100 in value, a variety of art supplies for their schools, framed certificates, and a contest calendar featuring their artwork. Teachers of winning students will each receive $50 gift cards.

But hurry! The deadline for submissions is fast approaching! All drawings and videos must be received by February 28, 2014.

Click here to learn more about the art contest and to see last year’s winners.

Congratulations! Greenfield Gets the Green Ribbon

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On Tuesday, April 22nd, Greenfield Elementary School was selected as a 2013 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the awardees. The Green Ribbon School Award is given to schools that have shown impressive achievements in areas of reduced environmental impact and costs, improved health and wellness, and effective environmental and sustainability education. Greenfield stands as an excellent representative of the best practices to improve achievement and equity for schools across the country. A day of national recognition will be held on June 3rd in Washington D.C. for the schools receiving the green ribbon award this year.

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