One of the largest green projects Eastwood Elementary tackled as a Maryland Green School was creating an outdoor habitat garden. Within this garden, teachers, staff, parents and students placed plants to attract butterflies in the warmer months and winter birds during the colder months.
There are also birdhouses for bluebirds, and birdbaths to draw some local wildlife closer to the school.
Eastwood Elementary was certified as a Maryland Green School in 2009 after a committee of administrators, teachers, building maintenance staff, a parent and two students completed the application process. But earning Maryland Green School certification is about more than an application process. It’s about changing the way teachers and students view the natural environment.
It’s also about integrating environmental education into every aspect of learning.
The teachers use the garden for a variety of educational purposes. Lessons on natural habitats go hand-in-hand with planting strawberries, herbs and other crops. Additionally, there are some Black-eyed Susans—a traditional symbol of all things Maryland.
Not far from the habitat garden, a group of students assigned to look for ways to improve Eastwood Elementary's environmental health decided the playground would benefit from some new trees. Carmella Walls, a resource teacher at Eastwood, recalled the students wanted the trees for providing shade and retaining water.
According to Walls, one of the greatest challenges the school faced with regard to Maryland Green School certification was finding the money to implement the projects they wanted to do. Luckily local companies, including Lowe's Home Improvement and Home Depot, came through with donations of trees and other plants for both the habitat garden and the playground project.
For Walls and the rest of the teachers at Eastwood Elementary, going green also means teaching green. Teachers work hard to integrate environmental themes into lesson plans. For example, students are given reading projects relating to everything from owl pellets to crabs and writing projects meant to inspire others to go green.
“Educating children to educate their parents has been a real focus for us,” Walls said. “One writing project had students writing persuasive letters to adults about environmental issues.”
Eastwood Elementary also has a science club that meets after school to engage students in more hands-on activities beyond the scope of the curriculum.
Perhaps the best example of how Eastwood Elementary teachers and staff work hard to teach students about being green is the annual Environmental Fair, which takes place around Earth Day each year. At the Environmental Fair, students are treated to presentations from a variety of specialists ready and willing to share their experience with a new generation.
Past presenters at the Environmental Fair include speakers from Baltimore County Department of Public Works, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, BGE, Bluewater Wind Alternative Energy, the Maryland Forestry Board, the Port Authority and Marshy Point Nature Center. Additionally, the fair has drawn local meteorologists and master gardeners.
For Walls, the Environmental Fair brings out the student body's excitement and passion for all things green.
“The most rewarding part is the participation and enthusiasm of the students,” Walls said. “It’s incredible to me to see the desire of the students to be good citizens of the earth.”
Creating reef balls is one of the most unique aspects of Eastwood Elementary’s green efforts. The large cement forms are created to provide habitats for oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Oysters are an important part of the bay’s ecosystem as they have the ability to filter more than 30 gallons of water per day and contribute to a cleaner, healthier body of water.
Last school year, students and teachers from Eastwood Elementary created 12 reef balls, which was more than any other school in the county. This school year, they have crafted five so far. Once ready, the reef balls are placed in the bay near Hart-Miller Island. According to Walls, this project really hits home for many students.
“Many of the students live near waterways and are active in water activities such as boating and fishing,” Walls explained. “So these activities have real value for them.”
Walls was emphatic that Eastwood Elementary would strive to be recertified as a Maryland Green School in 2013. For a school that is already so green, I’m wondering where they go from here. I think everyone in Dundalk should be excited to see that question answered!
The Maryland Green School Awards Program is a unique approach to environmental learning that rewards schools for teaching about environmental issues while incorporating opportunities for professional development, community stewardship, and implementation of environmental best practices.
The program is administered by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE). Schools applying for Maryland Green School certification are required to document environmental activities over a two-year period. Currently, Dundalk is home to seven certified Maryland Green Schools.
Over the next several weeks, Dundalk Patch will continue sharing some of the highlights from each of Dundalk’s green schools.