Environmental stewards-to-be

Reusable grocery bags, paper recycling and catch-and-release programs are just some of the ways that these St. Andrew's students are going green

Education Beat

November 11, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Students at St. Andrew's United Methodist Day School in Edgewater are taking on a new environmental issue in their quest to receive a "Green School" designation from the Maryland Department of Education.

This year, they began to sell reusable grocery bags to discourage shoppers from using plastic ones.

Environmentalists say plastic bags cause more pollution when they wind up in landfills and are washed into the Chesapeake Bay. Next week, the Annapolis city council is expected to decide whether to ban retailers from using plastic bags.

The reusable-bag project was a personal cause for Leslie Redwine, head of school for St. Andrew's.

Redwine, who describes herself as a "staunch" environmentalist, started at the school in August 2006. This past summer, she came up with the idea to add the bag program.

"I thought, why [couldn't] all of us use these instead of plastic bags?" Redwine said.

The school is selling 2,000 reusable grocery bags at $2 each. The school bought the bags from Heifer International, a nonprofit that provides livestock and other assistance to developing countries. The school will use a portion of the proceeds to benefit school environmental projects.

St. Andrew's students will be selling bags from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Giant in Edgewater.

Lisa Kumer's family has been using the bags for shopping since her mother bought a couple at the school's book fair.

"When you use reusable bags, they don't harm animals because they don't get into the bay," said Lisa, 13, an eighth-grader.

She thinks the Annapolis city council should approve the ban on plastic bags in grocery stores. "I think that would really help the pollution issue around this area," Lisa said.

The issue has been in dispute because grocery stores contend that paper bags use up environmental resources, while plastic bags can be recycled. In addition, the plastic bags cost less than paper bags.

The reusable bag project is one of several environmental projects that the school has embarked upon to apply for a Green School certification from the state Education Department.

The school has been documenting its environmental projects for the past 18 months so that it can include them on an application this spring, said James Roberson, a science teacher at the middle school.

"We really jumped in last year," he said.

The seventh-grade class manages a print cartridge recycling program.

The eighth-grade class has been raising a diamondback terrapin in the classroom through a catch-and-release program with the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. The class will release the terrapin into the Chesapeake Bay at the end of the school year.

Middle school students collect paper in their classrooms, weigh it and deposit it in recycling bins. Last year, the school recycled more than 14,000 pounds of paper.

Students deposit their lunch waste into a compost pile. The compost is used to fertilize an organic garden. The school distributed the vegetables they grew through the school's food bank.

This year, Roberson started Club Pollo, an after-school club to keep up the sustainable agriculture theme. (Pollo means chicken in Spanish.) The 23 chicks arrived on Oct. 1.

Students feed and provide water for the chickens every day as well as take care of their bedding.

Each student pays $150 for the privilege of learning more about the benefits of free-range chickens and smaller farms.

The school also became a part of the AquaEcosystem project last year in partnership with the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Roberson learned about the program through his wife, Tammi Roberson, the conservation project manager who oversees the three-year-old program at the aquarium.

The aquarium pays the $10,000 cost for the school to set up the project during the first year, through a federal grant. The school takes over the project in the second year, she said. This year, the Chesapeake Bay Trust is paying the $2,600 cost to maintain the tank for St. Andrew's.

Seventh-graders must weigh and monitor as many as 25 fish. Coastal grasses planted in the tank filter out the fish waste. At the end of the year, the students release the fish into the Chesapeake Bay and replant the grasses in degraded wetlands.

The restoration project is supposed to create a new generation of environmental stewards, Tammi Roberson said. Results from initial surveys show that students are becoming more educated about issues concerning the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

"I'm learning how bad the wetlands have gotten and how much pollution they have," said Erin Dorsey, 12, a seventh-grader at St. Andrew's.

This year, St. Andrew's students are caring for at least 19 white perch. James Roberson hopes they can add six rock fish to the tank.

The students learned a lot from the project last year, including the fact that their 200-gallon outdoor fish tank needed more insulation to protect the fish from the bitter cold.

Eight of the 25 fish died when temperatures dropped in December 2006. The school moved the aquarium inside, but Roberson said it takes up too much classroom space.

This year, the school used reclaimed lumber and recycled denim for insulation to build a shed to enclose the tank. Parents and students built the shed in about a week.

Parents also are donating their time to build a greenhouse, which will be connected to the fish shed. The science department is going to bring in space heaters to heat the shed, Roberson said.

Proceeds from the grocery bag sale will pay for the $3,000 solar panels to create the electricity.

So far, the bag sale and donations have raised half of the money, Roberson said.

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