Program seeks to plant a concern for nature

Howard 5th-graders learn about reforestation by helping clean Md. streams

March 30, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

On a patch of open land along a stream in West Friendship - down a long dirt path and across a field from the nearest road - the quiet was broken repeatedly last week by hundreds of fifth-graders from schools around Howard County.

They descended on the field equipped with boots, water, worksheets and pencils, and planted a scattering of stick-like seedlings that should grow into a protective stream buffer.

Fifth-graders wielding shovels will continue to be a common sight in the area throughout next month as the Schools and Streams project enters its fifth year in Howard County. Organizers aim to put 1,300 new trees on the program's latest location across Route 144 from the county fairgrounds.

Through the project, schools enhance their science curriculum with hands-on activities, the county master gardeners get to share their knowledge with a younger generation and environmentalists are pleased by reforestation that can help clean the water flowing to the Chesapeake Bay.

"The kids come out of it with a bit of a good feeling about themselves," said Marc Demeter, fifth-grade science teacher at Atholton Elementary School.

In the first four years, the project helped 7,105 students plant 2,632 trees on county land near waterways. Previously, they filled up a site along the Cabin Branch waterway near Lisbon.

The county Department of Recreation and Parks identifies sites that need reforestation and selects the type of trees.

The program "is unique in the state of Maryland," said Kerri Bentkowski, grants manager for the Chesapeake Bay Trust. "I'd say it's unique in terms of environmental education in the country."

The trust funds the purchase of trees and supplies, as well as transportation costs requested in grant proposals written by the students.

Bentkowski said the end result is that students "are not only well-educated citizens that understand their connection to the bay, they've actually done something."

The Patuxent River Commission, a body created by state legislation with members from seven counties, would like to build more programs using the Schools and Streams model, according to Claudia Donegan, tributary strategies coordinator.

A pilot program with Prince George's County's environmental education program helped a small group of students plant 1,000 trees. Now the commission is working to get more partners, including schools and master gardener programs, to establish Schools and Streams in other areas of the state.

"We really think it's an excellent thing," said Donegan. "But it does take a lot of partnering."

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