Pupils dig in for stream cleanup project


Dylan Elie, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Dunloggin Middle School, is not crazy about doing yard work at home. But he jumps at the chance to yank tangled, overgrown plants, pick up garbage and beautify the area surrounding a stream in the back of his school.

"This is much more fun," the Ellicott City resident said Friday morning, shortly after clearing several types of overgrown vegetation near the stream bank. "My friends are here to help."

Since October, 50 seventh-grade science pupils at Dunloggin have gone out once a week and worked to make a half-mile strip of stream that leads to the Chesapeake Bay more environmentally sound.

The stream is on land owned by the county Department of Recreation and Parks, so students have been updating department officials with their progress.

Pupils also have met with environmental advocates, cleared 1,000 pounds of trash and harmful plants from the area and are in the process of preparing to replant native vegetation and rebuild the eroded stream banks.

Friday's trip to the stream came a day before Earth Day.

Regina Nugent, 12, was not a huge fan of the project when she learned about it in October.

"At first, I thought we were just picking up trash and it was cold," said Regina, who spent most of her second period science class uprooting garlic mustard plants. "Now I like it because the weather is better."

The project is the brainchild of Pamela Kidwell, a Gifted-and-Talented Program teacher, and Dan Blue, a science teacher. They were inspired after attending an October workshop sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We thought this would be a fun thing to do because there is so much land around our school," Kidwell said. "We wanted to make it a meaningful outdoor experience. It's been a lot of hard work, but it has been so much fun."

Kidwell said the pupils have taken to the project.

"They have come out in every type of weather," Kidwell said, as members of Blue's third-period class emerged from the back of the school and ran toward the stream to get to work.

Principal Cherolyn Jones loves the project because students are working in a variety of education areas simultaneously.

"This is another great service learning project," said Jones, who explained that middle school pupils in the county are required to complete 75 hours of community service. "They are identifying different types of plants. Everyone is engaged. That's the neat thing."

The kids said they love the project because it is a chance to get out of the classroom, while helping the environment.

"It is fun to get out of class and get some fresh air," said Kae David, 13. "[My classmates] like to get down and dirty.

"It's great to help out in the community," said Kae. "And since the Chesapeake Bay got a low grade for water quality, it's great that we can help make it better."

Kidwell said the pupils are in the first phase of the project. Pupils will work in 50-foot sections until all the trash and "invasive" types of vegetation are removed and replaced with native state vegetation such as dogwood trees, ferns, sweet pepper bushes, spice bushes, button bushes, river birch trees, sycamores, inkberries, river oats and witch hazel.

Kidwell said there are plans to turn part of the area into a wetland pond project.

"We'll conduct stream studies and water-quality tests," Kidwell said. "There is a lot of science potential."

The pupils have cleared about 1,000 pounds of trash from the stream and the land bordering it.

"It's stuff that has washed downstream," Blue said, as he walked by a pile of garbage that included a real estate sign, glass bottles and pieces of a metal fence. "We've [picked up] everything you can imagine: fencing, golf balls."

Kae said the site has come a long way since she and her classmates began the cleanup effort.

"It wasn't very good," she said. "It was cluttered and a lot of the trash was gathered near the land. We found a lot more trash in the mud."

Ed Wysocki, 13, found it troubling that so much trash had accumulated in the stream.

"Why can't they just throw it out?" Ed asked. "The trash [can] can't be that far."

The cleanup effort got a boost when the school received a $500 Disney Minnie Grant in conjunction with the Washington-based Youth Service America, which allowed for the purchase of additional shovels, rakes, pruners and trash bags needed for the project. Youth Service America is a resource center that encourages youth involvement in community service.

Brianna Smith, 13, used one of the new shovels Friday as she attempted to remove a pesky plant.

"I didn't get the whole thing out," Brianna lamented. "It wouldn't come out. It was stuck in the ground."

Marcellus Ajiboye, 13, also battled a determined garlic mustard plant.

"It was everywhere," he said, as he headed to his next class. "Every time you picked it up, it was like it grew back up in a second."


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