SHE'S NURTURED the minds of young pupils whose numbers rise into the thousands. Now, Mount Airy Elementary kindergarten teacher Wendy Gahm has turned her nurturing to the environment, and, in the process, wants to see her school honored for its efforts.
Three years ago, Gahm saw a need to spruce up the school's landscaping. She also saw a learning opportunity for herself and her young charges.
"I started the Garden Club because I've had an interest in gardening since I was a kid," said Gahm. "I've always planted different flowers and some vegetable gardening, nothing fancy-fancy, but just fun gardening."
Her 25 years of teaching, mainly as a kindergarten teacher, also taught her that gardening could be a great learning experience for children.
"Kids have such an enthusiasm for witnessing changes in things," she said. "It's most amazing for them to see seeds open up and actually begin growing. That same thrill is true for kids who are in fourth or fifth grades as well as kindergarten children."
Gahm began the Garden Club with a group of 20 fourth- and fifth-graders. That first year they began putting in different plants around the school, mostly for beautification purposes.
"Two years ago, we applied and got a $500 grant from Hashawha to put in a wildflower garden and that was a learning experience," said Gahm. "The children had to help write the grant [proposal] and I put on the finishing touches."
Sadly, that wildflower garden was the target of vandalism, but that setback did not deter Gahm.
Last year, she was encouraged by a staff member at Hashawha Environmental Appreciation Center to apply for another grant. This time the children wanted to focus their efforts on wildlife preservation and environmental conservation.
"The children were worried about the impact of the new school to be built in Watkins Park and what that would mean to the wildlife that live there since some of their habitat might be taken away," said Gahm.
Once again, the children helped to write the proposal. The Garden Club was awarded a second $500 grant.
The money was used to plant nearly a dozen maple trees along the back of the school to fight erosion. The club also purchased several wildlife feeders, including squirrel and bird feeders, as well as a bat house, which Gahm, her husband, Steve (a professional landscaper), and several of the Garden Club members and parents helped to install this summer.
Gahm has also reached out to the community for help and persuaded local businesses to donate bluebird houses that the Garden Club installed to create a bluebird trail on the school grounds.
Some of the school's parents have pitched in to help enlarge an existing outdoor pond and donated unique garden items such as a birdbath ingeniously created from PVC pipe and a garbage can lid.
"We've had lots of support from parents, teachers and kids," said Gahm. "Now we want to make things better for the environment and that's why we're working toward applying to be a `green school.'"
The Green School Program is administered by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education and operates under the auspices of the state Department of Natural Resources.
Schools are recognized for outstanding environmental achievements.
"Right now, we're trying to accumulate data and artifacts to show our efforts," said Gahm. "We want to demonstrate the success of our recycling program and show what we've done to help the environment like installing the bluebird trail."
Gahm and her fellow Garden Club members will submit their application to be a designated a "green school" in March.
Concert in the park
A Mount Airy favorite will help to close the Concerts in the Park series this weekend.
Browningsville Band, one of the oldest bands in Maryland, will be featured in concert from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at the gazebo in the town's Wildwood Park.
Playing traditional marching band music, Browningsville Band has performed in Mount Airy since the 1920s.
The series presented six free concerts throughout the summer, the second and fourth Sunday of each month. The events have been sponsored by local businesses.
The audience is invited to take lawn chairs or picnic blankets.
Lesa Jansen's Southwest neighborhood column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.