Students learn by helping nature

March 24, 1995|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Pairs of students planted day lilies on a slope. A gaggle of

youths raked mulch. A few other teen-agers removed trash and twigs.

And it wasn't even Earth Day.

The students were starting the fourth year of a project to create a 2-acre wildlife habitat behind South River High School near Edgewater in Anne Arundel County. Eventually, the area will have more than 400 feet of marked trail and will be open to school and community groups.

This is the kind of work that gets students dirty and sweaty, maybe even gets them a case of poison ivy. Most important, it gets them out of the classroom.

"Hey, you got to take some time for nature," Art Neill, a 15-year-old sophomore from Davidsonville said as he bent over in muddied pants to tuck a day lily into the soil.

Marilyn V. Taylor, school librarian and an adviser to Students Against Violating the Environment, said the project "has been a force in keeping the kids together."

"It's hard to get them motivated for in-school stuff," she said. "When you've got them outdoors, it's different, and they become different kids when they are doing this."

Mrs. Taylor said the first year's achievements included getting the Anne Arundel County school system to approve the nature area. The site is behind the school on a hill that leads down to a ravine. The students also planted berry-bearing shrubs and small trees.

In the second year, they decided to put in a pond. South River graduates and area farm families helped them put a horse-pasture-style fence around the habitat. The students also made brush piles to shelter animals and birds.

Last year, they got out their shovels.

Though many schools have nature zones, South River is the only one with a pond and a marsh, Mrs. Taylor said. These features are an outgrowth of a conference the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources held a few years ago.

South River was the only Maryland high school to take the advice of the experts who recommended ponds and wetlands.

Last spring the environment club's members dug a shallow pond about 20 feet by 30 feet, put down a rubber lining and water plants and used tons of rock to make a border. They also dug a 10-foot-wide strip of wetland from the pond to a storm drain and put in marsh plants.

Shelly Haislip, 17, a senior from Davidsonville, is in her third year on the project.

"This has helped me learn a lot about animal environments and habitats. I've also learned a lot about design in building the pond," said Ms. Haislip, who wants to be an environmental engineer.

This year's big project starts tomorrow when students build half their trail, a mulch pathway lined with railroad ties. About 40 students are expected. Later this spring, they will create a hilltop meadow. Last fall, they covered the hill with mulch to kill the weeds. When the weather warms up, they will clear the mulch and spread seed. They also will write a trail guide.

There have been some setbacks. Sarah Doran, a 17-year-old senior from Edgewater, said the pond's vinyl liner was punctured and had to be repaired last spring, and drought killed young plants.

But there also have been some glorious moments. Students spotted goldfish and tadpoles in the pond. Mallards and bluebirds also have visited the mini-sanctuary, said senior Collette Brault, 17, of Edgewater.

Nearly a dozen bird boxes built by woodworking students at the 1,060-student school dot the site.

Grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and state Department of Natural Resources have paid for most of the work. While Mrs. Taylor has learned the art of drafting grant proposals, the students have learned how to solicit local businesses for donations, price reductions and free food.

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