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North Hills Monthly

Haine 'Rain Makers' Leading the Way in Water Conservation

Feb 28, 2018 05:04PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Teacher Allison Stebbins, Lorin Meeder, engineering and environmental services coordinator for Cranberry Township, and some of the student rain makers.

Cynics talk a lot about how kids today spend all of their time on electronic devices and are disconnected from real life, real people and the world around them. Allison Stebbins has good reason to disagree.

A teacher at Haine Middle School in Cranberry Township since 1997, Stebbins spearheads two hands-on environmental projects that teach fifth- and sixth-graders to be leaders in the community and to understand that even at young ages, they can make a difference.

The idea for the first project, a rain barrel initiative, came directly from the students. Stebbins explained that as part of her science curriculum, she brings Cranberry Township water quality reports to class so students can analyze and work with real-life data. 

In 2007, her students were upset.

“That report showed that our population exceeded the amount of clean water available, and the kids wanted to do something about it,” Stebbins said. After some brainstorming sessions, the class came up with the idea of creating a rain barrel class to teach Cranberry residents about the importance of protecting local streams and rivers from stormwater run-off.

In early 2008, Stebbins approached Lorin Meeder, engineering and environmental services coordinator for Cranberry Township, with the idea. Meeder was enthusiastic, and he and Stebbins drafted a program proposal to take to the township’s board of supervisors, who were also supportive.

Stebbins and her students got to work. They collected gift card donations from businesses throughout the community for a basket raffle that raised thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, Stebbins and Meeder applied for and received grant money to help with funding. Meeder contacted rain barrel maker Fiskars, and the company agreed to provide a significant discount on rain barrels to support the initiative. As the result of a partnership with Fiskars and Home Depot, rain barrels that normally sold for $150 or more could be purchased for $30 by residents who attended the rain barrel class.

The students prepared a presentation for the community outlining the problems with stormwater run-off. They explained how rain barrels help the environment, reduce the need to use drinkable water for lawn maintenance and lower people’s water bills.  

In April 2008, fifth-grader Tanner Quiggle went in front of the township’s board of supervisors to seek formal approval for the rain barrel class, and the “rain makers” taught their first class in the spring of 2009.

Fifth- and sixth-graders at Haine Middle School now run the class twice annually in the Cranberry Township Municipal Center. It is open to all residents, and participants receive rain barrels at the end of the presentation. Students have distributed between 30 and 60 rain barrels to residents each year since 2009.

“The township has been wonderful,” Stebbins said. “They support us and want to work together as partners.” This partnership acquired a new dimension when the township sought the students’ help with a storm drain stenciling project in 2014.

With the success of the rain barrel program, Tim Schutzman, waterworks coordinator for Cranberry Township, was inspired to collaborate with Stebbins and her students. The students once again presented a proposal to the board of supervisors, who approved the project. 

Each spring since 2014, Stebbins’s students have created slogans to discourage people from dumping waste into stormwater drains. They design stencils, then fan out into local neighborhoods to paint the message next to drains along the street. The initiative allows the township to fulfill its permit requirements with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and gives the students a means to serve and to educate their community.

Stebbins said the best thing about the projects is that students understand that one person can make a difference. She explained, “It’s empowering. They realize that they have a voice, and they learn how to make a change when they don’t like something.” The feedback Stebbins receives from students and parents makes the long hours she invested getting the program off the ground worth it.

“The students love helping. They’ll come in and tell me when they see a rain barrel in someone’s yard, and they are excited that they helped make that happen,” Stebbins said. Parents appreciate that their children have the chance to apply what they learn in school outside the classroom. 

“Having opportunities at such a young age to be leaders, to educate adults, to present in front of an audience—it teaches kids to believe in themselves,” Stebbins said. 

Tanner Quiggle, now a junior majoring in biology/pre-med and Spanish at Penn State University, is one example of the impact that the project has had on students. Quiggle returned to help with the most recent storm drain stenciling project—this time as a summer intern for Cranberry Township’s department of engineering and environmental services. 

“Seeing the passion and excitement these kids have makes me optimistic for the future,” Stebbins said.