Pupils work to build better bogs

Program grows native plants, some endangered, in Severn greenhouse

February 13, 2003|By Kory Dodd | Kory Dodd,SUN STAFF

The sharp, cold wind pounding on the outer walls of the greenhouse went unnoticed by the class of 28 eighth-graders planting seedlings in the damp heat inside.

A group of five watched as their teacher dipped cranberry cuttings in a growth hormone and planted them in rows on a planting tray. Adam Davidson and Tony Vaeth, both 13, followed suit.

"We're helping the community," said Adam, whose class was the last of four from Chesapeake Bay Middle School to work with native coastal bog plants at the Center of Applied Technology North's greenhouse in Severn.

The Chesapeake Bay is "going to be much cleaner now," said Tony. The native bog plants his class is cultivating could be transplanted to nearby wetlands and are "going to filter the water," he said.

In the past two weeks, about 125 pupils worked with Arlington Outdoor Education Center staff, planting cuttings and seedlings in trays and pots for their annual service learning project.

The program, Chesapeake Connection, combines lecturing and hands-on experience to educate the pupils about the county's environment and the effect their actions can have on it, said Julie Dieguez, a program assistant.

"When they know what the plants need to live, then they can understand how their actions affect the plants," said Stephen G. Barry, the program's director.

`Fun and messy'

Jean Connolly, the class' social studies teacher, said the program is ideal for the pupils because it involves "getting their hands dirty" and teaching them about something familiar. Other service projects have failed to hold enough of the pupils' interest, Connolly said.

Nina Shoemaker, 14, agreed. "Usually we have to read about it. ... We never actually get to see the real thing," she said.

Initially, many of the pupils had their doubts. Shardeh Callis, 13, said she thought she "was going to be bored. But it turned out to be fun and messy, and messy is good."

The program began with a visit by Chesapeake Connection staffers to the middle school at the beginning of the semester to explain what bogs are and why they are needed.

Pupils learned that bogs act as natural filters by absorbing heavy metals and other pollutants so they cannot flow into the Chesapeake Bay, said Mike McQuade, a program assistant.

Only three bogs exist in Anne Arundel because of development, Dieguez said.

In the greenhouse phase of the program, the pupils worked with cranberry cuttings and two rare species: the Atlantic white cedar and the northern pitcher plant.

The Atlantic white cedar, which has been reduced in number because of logging, is considered a "watched" species and may soon be added to the threatened species list. Northern pitcher plants are an endangered native species of which only 900 have been found growing in Maryland.

The education center had to apply for a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to get the Atlantic white cedar and northern pitcher plant seedlings and plant them in pots in the greenhouse, Barry said.

In all, pupils planted about 4,000 cranberry, cedar and pitcher plant seedlings in pots, Dieguez said. The program is awaiting approval for a permit that would allow the pupils to transplant the species into a bog.

New bog planned

If all goes according to plan Barry hopes to build a bog on the Chesapeake Bay Middle School property between the middle school and Bodkin Elementary School. Both are near a Magothy River bog restoration project.

Barry said that if the school's own bog is not approved by the time the seedlings have to be planted, the pupils will transplant them to the education center's bog.

The education center is funding the program this year. Barry said it has applied to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, in coordination with the Magothy Land Trust, for grant money to expand the program next year. The plan is to include 16 schools in the project eventually.

"We're determined we're going to do the project no matter what. We're going to make it work," Barry said.

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