The Chesapeake Bay is saved--if all our children are anything like the students at Dunloggin Middle School.
Or if all our teachers are like Dan Blue and Pam Kidwell.
Not only have these Dunloggin teachers and students worked to restore the eroded banks of the stream near their school in Ellicott City, Maryland, built a wetland nearby to help purify water entering the stream, now they are using a cutting edge problem-solving curriculum to restore oysters in the Chesapeake.
You heard that right.
And the amazing thing is Dunloggin is not really even near the Chesapeake. Ellicott City is a river town on the Patapsco River at least 20 miles from the main stem of the Bay. So you wouldn't think these teachers and students would be so compelled to do something, or actually do so many projects, to save the Bay.
But they are. The latest effort started a year ago when Dunloggin students took their annual spring trip to CBF's Merrill Education Center on the shores of the Chesapeake in Annapolis. CBF educators take about 35,000 students, teachers, and principals a year outside on hands-on, education experiences around the Bay watershed.
But when, as part of the trip last year, Dunloggin students sampled the health of an oyster reef, they found only one live oyster among the shells they pulled up from the bottom! The students were crushed.
"It was really sad to know how much they [oysters] help the Bay, and that we had lost like 90 percent of them," said eighth-grader Katy Montgomery.
When they returned to school, Blue, Kidwell, and the students researched the plight of oysters in the Bay, and discovered that CBF runs an oyster gardening program. CBF staff teach volunteers how to grow baby oysters which then can be added to existing "sanctuary" reefs protected from harvest. The Dunloggin kids joined the program.
And that was no small feat, considering you can't grow oysters in the middle of the Patapsco River. But the owner of Kentmorr Harbor Marina on Kent Island graciously allowed the children to hang their special oyster-growing cages off his pier. Parents agreed to drive their children all the way to Cambridge, Maryland, to pick up oyster larvae from the University of Maryland's Horn Point Laboratory and then take turns chauffeuring the children to and from the marina (about a one-hour drive) all through the fall and winter so the students could care for the growing oysters.
This week Dunloggin students returned to the Merrill Center for their annual trip. And they brought with them at least 1,000 baby oysters, each about the size of a dime, clinging to old oyster shells.
Threatening skies did not dampen the enthusiasm and excitement of the children as they playfully bid farewell to their "children" and then gently released handfuls of spat-on-shell over the side of the CBF workboat Marguerite. CBF educator Tiffany Granberg encouraged the students to shout out a wish to the baby oyster as the students tossed them overboard.
"Go to college."
"Marry a nice girl."
"Have more baby oysters."
Just a typical school day for Dunloggin students. The school is a National Green Ribbon School, one of only four in Maryland. And the school's environmental education emphasis is largely the reason for that distinction, Blue said. At Dunloggin learning is active, with real-life experiences used to teach traditional skills. It's never just about building a wetland or restoring a stream or raising oysters; it's about learning science, math, critical thinking, and other skills along the way, he said.
As part of the oyster project, Blue worked with a specialist in problem-solving educational curriculum all the way up in Quebec--Claude Poudrier, who helps teachers in Canada and the United States develop curricula. Poudrier flew all the way down from his Canadian home on Thursday to witness the culmination of the oyster project.
"To know is not enough. Children need to know how to be in action," Poudrier said. "When they have fun, they learn, and they are ready to be engaged. When they are engaged they have fun. It's the egg and the chicken."
That pretty much sums up the educational philosophy, which CBF has espoused for decades, and which underlies the organization's No Child Left Inside efforts in Maryland and nationally: That at the heart of true learning are interactive, hands-on, meaningful experiences in nature.