North County teacher wins ecology honor Award praises role as science educator

August 14, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

As a North County High School science teacher, Valerie C. Wesner raises hundreds of fish and the environmental consciousness of her students every year.

Her work has won her the second annual Jan Hollmann Environmental Education Award.

The award is named for one of Anne Arundel County's foremost environmental activists, who died in 1990. The honor recognizes significant, long-term contributions in environmental education.

Wesner said though she knew North County science department chairman Frank Utley had nominated her, she was surprised when told Monday that she had won.

"I am absolutely thrilled, just thrilled," Wesner said.

The honor carries no monetary award, just a small plaque that goes home with the winner. There also is a plaque at Arlington Echo, the school system's outdoor education center in Millersville, where winners' names are inscribed. The award ceremony will be Sept. 22 at the center.

"She had a really broad base of activities. She went beyond the classroom, she opened opportunities," said Robin Ward Ireland, chairwoman of the eight-member award committee.

Wesner is known for the fish tanks her students keep and for the many outdoor activities in which her students take part. She teaches marine biology and oceanography, mostly to juniors and seniors, and mostly through get-wet studies.

At 39, she is starting her 15th year of teaching. Several years ago she was named outdoor educator of the year by county school officials.

"We are very proud of our teacher," said Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham. "She is more than deserving."

Russell Hyde, outdoor education coordinator, said Wesner and her students have been a constant presence at Arlington Echo. Not only are the students out on the Severn River in the center's boat, but they also helped build a model wetland and have taken part in plant studies, often on weekends.

At school, groups of two to four youths each start the year with an empty tank.

"I say, 'Here they are,' and then I talk about how you set up a saltwater, a freshwater and a brackish water tank. The students decide what they want to put into them," Wesner said.

Tending the tanks includes monitoring water quality, a task the students also do a mile away in Sawmill Creek.

For two years, Wesner's students have hatched yellow perch eggs and released the fingerlings as part of a program sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources. Wesner makes sure the fish get three meals a day of student-raised brine shrimp, even on weekends.

Her students learn about the food chain by role-playing the parts of such sea-dwellers as tiny krill and huge whales.

"If you stay hidden, nobody can eat you, but you starve to death," Wesner said. On the other hand, "it may be more romantic to be a blue whale, but it is harder to stay alive because you are farther up the food chain."

Wesner also runs an ecology club and the county's part of the Envirothon, a statewide competition in ecological studies.

There were five nominees for this year's Hollmann award.

Hollmann, 44, had just graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School and was planning to practice environmental law when she died.

She spearheaded the creation of the Severn River Land Trust, served as vice chair of the Severn River Commission, was a member of Maryland Coastal Zone Resources Council and chaired the Maryland Environmental Trust.

Last year, the committee chose former Democratic state Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad for the award.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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