Stream banks are classrooms for lessons on helping the bay


May 17, 1999|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FIFTH-GRADERS from Deep Run Elementary School traveled to the headwaters of their school's namesake to plant trees Friday.

They were participating in the Master Gardeners Schools and Streams Program -- a partnership of Howard County Master Gardeners, Howard County public schools and the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.

The project involves schoolchildren in maintaining the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay by planting trees and shrubs along streams. The stream buffers help cleanse the water.

Debbie Kerchner, fifth-grade science teacher at Deep Run, developed the program with other teachers and master gardeners trained by the Howard County Extension Service.

This spring, six schools are participating.

Master gardeners visited classrooms to present information about stream buffers.

On field trips around the county, they taught students how to plant trees.

Kerchner says she feels "like a kid in a candy shop." For eight years, she has conducted her experiments in the classroom. This is the first year that her pupils have had the opportunity to do something in the real world.

She appreciates the support of the other fifth-grade staff: teachers Randi Blue, Marcia Dorsey, Kate Linton and Roslyn Johnson, and teachers' assistants Patricia Franklin and Theresa Schott.

Fifteen parents volunteered to help with the tree planting.

Kerchner packed medications and a list of children who needed them, a first-aid kit, a cellular phone, tweezers, insect repellent and antiseptic ointment.

The teachers, parents and students boarded school buses and traveled to an area close to Glenmar Drive and Morningside Lane in Ellicott City.

Trees and shrubs grow around a small wetland at the site; the grass has not been mowed and stands 12 inches high.

The children wore light-colored socks and tucked their pants legs into the socks to avoid getting ticks. One boy wore baggy jeans that draped over his shoes. But beneath the folds of the jeans, the edges of his pants were tucked in.

Eight master gardeners, including Ellicott City residents Robin Crosby, Gail Draney and Cindy Hirshberg, met the group and demonstrated how to plant trees.

Parent Bill Walsh noticed that some students were apprehensive about moving into the uncut foot-high grass. "Some have never touched a shovel or never planted anything," he said.

The ground was rocky, and the digging was not always easy, but, Walsh said, "the students were having a good time."

Marie Di Angelis, science facilitator for the Howard County schools, has supported Kerchner's efforts to develop projects in which children create solutions to real-life problems.

Kerchner and Lisa Davis of Centennial Lane Elementary School will rewrite part of the Howard County science curriculum on ecology this summer to include planting a stream buffer as a final project.

Hirshberg came up with the idea to match master gardeners with students and Howard County parks. She wanted children to understand that their work could help improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

Hirshberg found educators like Kerchner who were interested in developing local environmental lessons. She recruited master gardeners to run educational programs and field events, and involved Recreation and Parks in selecting sites.

Sue Muller, who coordinates natural resource management projects for the department, selected trees and shrubs for each site. She brought 10 shovels and 50 trees to the Ellicott City site.

Muller handed each team two deer-repellent tablets to place in the bottom of each hole.

Kenny White said he learned that the tablets would "make the tree taste bad so the deer won't nibble it."

His friend, Damon Wilson, said he learned that trees "help the air."

Fifth-graders Min Park and Jenny Stiffler said they learned how to plant trees. They dug a hole 5 inches square; poured water into it; rolled a pot on its side to loosen the tree it contained; lifted the tree out of the pot; placed it in the hole; covered it with dirt and gave it more water.

Tom Alberti and Randy Bell-Moore explained how trees planted beside a river serve as a filter, "catching the bad stuff." The leaves, Tom said, "make the raindrops fall softer on the ground."

The children brought gallon jugs of water for the trees, and Mary Kuttler, who lives across the street from the site, stretched her garden hose to the end of her driveway and offered the children more water.

Birders ahoy

Birders spread out around the county May 8 for the May count organized by the Howard County Bird Club.

Ellicott City resident Bonnie Ott counted the birds in Rockburn Park in Elkridge. Migratory birds fly through the area from late April to mid-May on their way from the Caribbean to points north for the summer, Ott said.

The May count was "extremely exciting," she said. Ott saw more birds than ever before in May. Conditions were ideal, she explained, because a storm developed about 11 p.m., and the birds "fell out" of the sky, landed in trees and waited for the weather to clear.

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