JoCo on the Go Podcast: Stormwater education with local high schools

On JoCo on the Go, episode #111, find out how an innovative partnership between local government and an area high school is instilling important values to protect our environment through stormwater management early on. By supporting and expanding the “Contain the Rain” program throughout Johnson County, learn how residents can implement best management practices in their landscapes while receiving financial assistance. Hear first-hand from a student the impact this type of program has on our future generation and how the partnership between local schools and local government continues to grow.

JoCo on the Go webcast, episode #111: Stormwater education with local high schools

Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.


Time Subject
00:28 Introduction
03:11 History of the stormwater program at Edgerton High School
05:35 The activities students participate in during the program
08:51 The role of stormwater in the program
10:52 How the program helps students
14:54 Other programs in Johnson County/td>


Theresa Freed 00:00

Teaching all generations about the importance of protecting our environment is important. On this episode find out how an innovative partnership between local government and an area high school is instilling some important values early on.

Announcer 00:13

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 00:28

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go, I'm your host Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Students at Gardner-Edgerton High School are getting some hands-on learning through a program that highlights stormwater. Here to talk more about that are Chris Cardwell. Aaron Batterbee and Riley Pemberton, a junior at the high school there. Thank you all for being here.

Chris Cardwell 00:51

Thanks, Theresa.

Theresa Freed 00:52

All right. Well, first off, can you just start off by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about your role within this program, and we'll go ahead and start with Chris.

Chris Cardwell 01:03

Thanks for having me. My name is Chris Cardwell, and I'm the urban conservationist for the Miami County Conservation District. We sponsor the Hillsdale Watershed Coalition, and through that organization and entity, we partner with communities that contribute to the Hillsdale Lake watershed in outreach and education, and this is one of those partnership opportunities.

Theresa Freed 01:28

Okay. And that partnership is also done with Johnson County, right?

Chris Cardwell 01:34

That's correct. The watershed is half in Johnson County, and about half in Miami County. So it's a it doesn't know a border as a political line like that.

Theresa Freed 01:45

Gotcha. Okay, that makes sense. All right, Aaron, if you want to tell us about your role.

Aaron Batterbee 01:50

Hi, Aaron Batterbee, a teacher here at Edgerton High School. I teach biology, field biology, which is where this program kind of intertwined. I've been going to Hillsdale Lake watershed coalition meetings for five years now, working with a lot of partners in Johnson County, we do stream water testing and the Hillsdale Lake Watershed and have been, and I know that met some people through the through the government and through coalition. And we've talked about stormwater and you know, the importance of it. And you know, we kind of mentioned the grant it, but it was just a matter of trying to utilize that. And we've been very fortunate my my administration has been absolutely fantastic with putting a lot of pieces together and making this a very workable and very feasible situation for the kids. And it's been great to see their reaction to this whole process.

Theresa Freed 02:51

Awesome. All right. And Riley tell us, we know you're a junior, but can you tell us how you got involved in this.

Riley Pemberton 02:57

I am in Mr. Batterbee's class, and we have Field Biology. He introduced us by going outside and planting some plants in the garden and being able to water it and stuff.

Theresa Freed 03:11

Alright, terrific. So tell us a little bit if you will, about sort of the history of this program. How did you all get started and kind of where where's it gotten?

Chris Cardwell 03:23

Well, I've been with the district for only a year, but in 2017, Miami County and Johnson County Parks and Recreation partnered on a National Fish and Wildlife Federation grant and that's was applied in Big Bull Creek Park, which is pre-COVID a hot spot for biological surveying and, and a great field study opportunity area for the students in Mr. Batterbee's class. And that's the origin of the partnership. And this project grew out of a need to try to find opportunities on campus to do similar work.

Theresa Freed 04:05

Alright, and Aaron, if you want to talk about kind of what the program looks like in your class.

Aaron Batterbee 04:12

Well, as I tell the kids every year, I could plan for how I want things to look but each year we just kind of roll with Mother Nature and a lot a lot of outside factors. Obviously just trying to do some things, you know, with, with the pandemic and that and so we really just want to focus on our campus and there's just a lot of opportunities that are here and we wanted to look at, you know, something that would be feasible, cost effective and very beneficial for not only the kids now but you know, future kids like you can kind of you this is a community based project really, because just making the grant you know, making people aware of the grant making people aware of the process the whole thoughts, the watershed, you know, this is going to be a great educational tool for middle elementary school. And I really think that, you know, this has really just been so beneficial, and just a great learning environment for all of us. And I really thank Chris, just for his expertise on this whole thing. I didn't, I haven't, I don't know a lot, and I'm just learning more and more every day. So it's very positive that I can learn from them. And I can teach my students and we all just continue to grow, you know, and just kind of be better stewards to our community.

Theresa Freed 05:35

And so talk a little bit about what are the sort of the activities that you all are doing to instill these values and protecting the environment and your students


Well, first, we had to, we looked over the site, so my kids had been looking all over the campus, we were trying to find the best, you know, kind of the the most prominent and where we could kind of showcase this where people would be talking about it, and still be very much a benefit in the watershed area in terms of that. And so we went out, and we surveyed, and we, with the help of Chris, you know, took soil samples, and we talked about the soil chemistry and how important that is, and what we would need to add to the soil. And we cut out an area and we talked about, we added some topsoil, just to add some, some micronutrients to it. And planting the plants, we talked about the type of plants that would be there, what the plants would do, where you would put plants, there's a lot of discussion on that, because it's not just you want to just go out and throw things out there. And we decided we wanted to use plugs instead of seeds to have a more immediate impact on on the scheme of things to kind of get that pop and get people you know, talking about it. And so the kids get the chance to see this and it's in they can put their hands on it. And they're asking a lot more questions. They're like, Well, wait, we put these plants in, in the wintertime. And so what's going to happen? So we're talking about the roots. And you know, that's where the action is happening, a lot of it and so there's a lot of fruitful discussions we're watering. We are where we can read recheck soil conditions. You know, those types of things that were watching the biodiversity are on there. I think that that I did leave that out a little bit earlier. But that was a big Springboard as well, how can we create more of a biodiversity? There's a lot of schools that are in Johnson County, that I've been working with. And we've been talking about doing biodiversity studies, and how can we improve that on campus. And this is a fantastic venture that ties in so much of those things that can enrich kids lives.

Theresa Freed 07:52

All right, that's terrific. And Riley, maybe you can talk a little bit to us about kind of the difference between learning this stuff in a book versus being able to actually go out and kind of experiment with it.

Riley Pemberton 08:05

It's definitely way better being outside, being able to use your hands and just being able to plant the plants. And compared to being out in the school and stuff. It's way better just to be outside and fresh our brains a little bit just for a little part of the day.

Theresa Freed 08:24

And so is it. Is it fun? Does it what do you take away from what you're doing?

Riley Pemberton 08:29

It's definitely fun because you get to learn more about the ecosystem, and you get to meet new people along with it. Like Chris, and then just, Mr. Batterbee being able to teach us more and more about grass and flowers and all of it's very exciting new stuff for us.

Theresa Freed 08:51

And so Chris, can you talk a little bit more about the tie in with stormwater? So how does this all link up?

Chris Cardwell 08:59

Yeah, not only is there the pollinator benefit and the ecosystem benefit of the plants themselves, but Mr. Batterbee got started talking about the root systems. So native plant systems, like large swaths of prairie or woodland, have stormwater benefits because rain that falls in those areas is far more likely to be held in place and soil profile is far more likely to Eve does run off be more clean, lower in toxins and does run off at a at a more manageable rate, leaving soil behind and not eroding. So on a microscopic lake level 1000 square foot garden will perform those same ecosystem services through its root systems and by maintaining the stormwater that is falling on the high school campus. And that's where the county stormwater agency draws interest in projects like these and That's why they invest in their programming, like the contain the rain.

Theresa Freed 10:04

And do you see this this program expanding? Or where do you see it going from here?

Chris Cardwell 10:11

Well, my role here in my position is, is to expand that programming that's already existed in Johnson County for a number of years, we want to see higher utilization of it. And a demonstration project like this in such a high profile area in such a growing community, is a really great indicator of the awareness increasing of programming like this, and the awareness continuing to increase and grow about the importance of projects like this. So we see good things in the future for native plants in general stormwater management, in the Johnson County and Miami County areas.

Theresa Freed 10:52

Alright, that's great. And I called you, Aaron, but I guess I should call you Mr. Batterbee, you're probably much more used to hearing that. So Mr. Batterbee, can you talk about kind of what the program's impact has been on students in terms of maybe inspiring them to pursue a career in this area? Or just, you know, do some of these measures in their in their own backyard?

Aaron Batterbee 11:18

Oh, yeah, definitely, this has had some impact. I've had kids just talking about the type of plants that are there, and they're like, Wow, well, you know, like, I need to do a little bit more research in terms of what I'm putting in my garden, when we talk about plants through the kids talk about plants that there, they want to put in there. And then even the timing of the plants, it's definitely opened up some doors, and I know that those kids are having discussions with parents, we just had parent teacher conferences, and I have parents talking to me about, hey, you know, you know, such and such came home and said, you know, this is what we're looking at, and we're talking about a garden, and this is what we can do. And here, there's even grants if we want to put this garden in, potentially so so there's more discussions, and the kids can talk to the parents and the parents are going to talk to their friends. And I think it's just one of those things, that it's great. It's, it's, you know, just watching kids and parents talk, you know, I think is a very positive, positive impact. And just kids talking to each other about, you know, different plants. So, I've just seen seen that so far. And it's one of those things to the district has kind of put some, some mentioning of this stuff out there, too. And I've had other not, you know, kids that I haven't had, and parents talking about it. And you know, wanting to get involved. So kids thinking about types of careers. I've been fortunate enough, just linked with some of the people in this project with other projects. It's just one of those things, that talking to kids nowadays, when you think about going to college grades are very important. But schools are also looking at what can kids do involved in the community? How can they get involved in the community, in projects that they've seen started and thought about? And these are just great positive things that can, you know, roll from that, and it just can pass along generation to generation again, and person to person and with social media, you know, just just getting that stuff out there?

Theresa Freed 13:16

Can you think too, about, you know, the fact that we're dealing with a pandemic, and kids are sitting in class wearing masks, and this is a great way to just get outside too, and get some fresh air? Right?

Aaron Batterbee 13:27

Yeah, I've actually had a high number of enrollment, my kids, it's amazing, is I joke and tell them, I don't think it's the teacher, sometimes I think it's the fact that it's an hour and 20 minutes, at the end of the day, where you're outside without a mask on, we have a massive mandate in school, when we're outside, they don't. And it's just they're outside. And you know, they're able to do a lot more. And it's just, it's so wonderful to see the look on their face, and just in what they get into, they could easily just say, You know what I'm done for the day. But when we put those flowers out, and I said, Hey, you know, can you guys help out with this, we planted 400 flowers in 20 minutes. You know, like, it was just amazing. They wanted to do it. And it's just, they want to be a part of this, they they want it, they just you know, just getting them opportunities is huge.

Theresa Freed 14:17

That's great. And Riley, if you want to talk to your peers for a moment, just you know, people who might be considering joining this, this program this class can can you give them some advice on some of the benefits on it?

Riley Pemberton 14:32

Um, just definitely have fun when you're doing it. It's a really great experience to be able to help out just Johnson County in general. The flowers like I didn't know certain types of flowers until I was in this class or even trees. So it's just a great knowledge to know about just nature.

Theresa Freed 14:54

All right. That's great. And Chris, I know you talked about expanding this program, but can you talk about where else It's happening in Johnson County.

Chris Cardwell 15:04

Yeah, many communities participate in the cost share programming that this project is an application for. And that's on a community by community basis, but its its origin is at the Johnson County stormwater level. Now when it comes to stormwater and native plant education, there are many schools throughout the county, who already have giant programs and are making incredible progress in terms of heightening awareness of the student body. I do know the Shawnee Mission School District specifically has a director of sustainability who's just a go getter, wonderful person, and is seeing great success in campus demonstration gardens at one of the schools in that in that district. I know there's a lot of them like the one forget demonstration, campus planting that I've seen, I forget the name of the school, but they're doing great work on many different fronts on sustainability, but stormwater and native plants as well.

Theresa Freed 16:03

Alright, that's great. And Mr. Batterbee, does this create a network of educators in the area who are able to kind of share compare notes on the programs?

Aaron Batterbee 16:13

Yeah, says he mentioned Shawnee Mission, I think that's what their director of sustainability, that's who's kind of spearheading, when we're talking about and working with the biodiversity studies that we're doing. So we have, you know, between Olathe and DeSoto, and Blue Valley, you know, all of those, there's, I have a Rolodex of people that we can just, we can talk to, and talk about these kinds of things. And you know, that kind of a goal. Out of this, it before this kind of started was making a biodiversity map of Kansas, where you can click on different schools and see what's been there, what's been around there, you know, just to get more teachers talking about something like this. So, this puts me, you know, better in tune with, you know, increasing the biodiversity here, and trying to, you know, get have, you know, just better conversations and just learning more about from schools, like he talked about Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley and, and such an end. There's also other things that I'm involved with side projects that we're talking about between schools as well. So there are teachers that are so there's, we just keep finding more and more things. And the whole goal, again, is to educate the students increase community awareness, you know, and the more that we can talk and work together, I think the stronger that, yes.

Theresa Freed 17:39

All right. And, Chris, if other districts are interested in pursuing these programs, how can they get in touch with you to do that?

Chris Cardwell 17:47

My jurisdiction is limited to the communities of the Hillsdale watershed. But any resident of Johnson County is likely to be in a community that participates in this. And it's a just a blanket website that you can go to And you'll see a list of participating communities there. You'll click on your city's name. And you'll see the opportunities to participate as a resident or if you have local projects, is that in your school, or faith groups, or scouts or whatever that you're interested in? Great information can be found there throughout the county.

Theresa Freed 18:26

All right, perfect. Well, thank you all for being here today. I really appreciate you spending a little part of your day to talk about this really innovative and wonderful program that's benefiting our local environment and also the students who are participating in it for sure. And thanks for listening.

Announcer 18:44

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit Thanks for listening.

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