Teachers Connect Schools to Improving Pennsylvania's Water Quality

The following first appeared in The Sentinel.

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Teachers take a closer look at a Dragonfly Nymph being held by CBF Educator Emily Thorpe, right, during a study of aquatic life along the Susquehanna River. The two-day workshop showed teachers what schools can do to reduce polluted runoff and improve Pennsylvania's water quality. Teachers are, from left, Sondra Picciotto of Harrisburg City, Abigail Frey of the Diocese of Harrisburg, and Nicolette Place of Northern York. Photo by Myrannda Kleckner.

A group of Pennsylvania teachers became students when the lessons turned to what schools can do to reduce polluted runoff and improve the Commonwealth's water quality. The two-day "Pennsylvania's Waterways: Real Change, Real Connections Workshop" was sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's (CBF) Susquehanna Watershed Education Program.

"The main idea of the workshop was for teachers to connect their schoolyards and communities to local waterways," said CBF Educator Emily Thorpe. "It is proven that urban and suburban runoff is the fastest growing source of pollution. These teachers will have the experience to learn what types of best management practices may be beneficial for their area and how they can go about proposing action to reduce pollution."

About 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania rivers and streams are polluted, and the Commonwealth has a Clean Water Blueprint to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment runoff that is damaging its waters. But the Environmental Protection Agency reported recently that Pennsylvania is significantly behind in meeting its Blueprint goals of having 60 percent of the pollution-reduction practices necessary to restore water quality in place by 2017 and 100 percent in place by 2025.

Teachers who attended were asked to evaluate their schoolyards and identify water management strengths and weaknesses, so they might share suggestions for improvement, with students and the administrators.

"For most schools, we have too many paved surfaces that could cause problems with stormwater runoff," said Sondra Picciotto, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher in the Harrisburg City School District. "If schoolyards were able to add rain gardens and rain barrels to their campus, we would see positive effects in our local water."

"I believe that it would be better for schools to put money into programs like storm water practices," added Mary Catherine Sweeney, an English teacher at the Diocese of Harrisburg.

"A first step a school could do is to transform their open plots of land," said Jane Macedonia, a science teacher within Lancaster Catholic High School. "Turn them into rain gardens or add rain barrels that serve as biological functions that not only will be beneficial to your environment, but will be beneficial to the kids sitting in the classrooms."

Macedonia said, "There are so many types of programs that schools can adopt that conserve water quality. "Think about hydroponics. These systems recycle water throughout the process of growing plants, which later could be used within the school's cafeteria," she added. "No matter what type of program, though, the students will be having so much fun that they won't realize that it was meant to be a learning experience."

Nolan Canter, CBF educator for the Philip Merrill Center Education Program in Annapolis, MD, said, "For aquaponics, schools could raise trout or other fish inside the schools themselves and over time, be able to release them into local streams to help the populations. Also, students can learn about water chemistry while working on a project like this. It doesn't all have to be outside," he added.

During a session at the Wildwood Nature Center in Harrisburg, teachers learned more about water resources and the Chesapeake Bay, and how their schools measure up in preventing pollution. They also toured the Benjamin Olewine Nature Center and the Capital Region Water Treatment Plant. They spent the second day of the workshop paddling canoes down the Susquehanna River, stopping for hands-on lessons about aquatic life in the river, and water chemistry.

Teachers were from the Diocese of Harrisburg, Harrisburg City School District, Lancaster Catholic High School, Northern York School District, River Rock Academy, St. Catherine Laboure School, and St. John the Baptist Catholic School.

"If we emphasize water quality issues," said Nicolette Place, a teacher at Wellsville Elementary in the Northern York School District, "we will be able to come up with solutions that will continue to keep our environment healthy for the next generation."

—Myrannda Kleckner, CBF Pennsylvania Communications Intern


Life on the Chickahominy

Late spring is a heady time on the Chickahominy River. Thick cypress trees with knobby knees rise out of dark, tannin-stained waters. Vibrant yellow prothonotary warblers flit among the greening trees and blooming wildflowers. Occasionally, the river's surface explodes as a toothy chain pickerel makes a meal out of an unwary fish. The river, which winds through the forests to the east of Richmond, courses across classic Southern swamps on Virginia's Coastal Plain. 

In mid-May, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation partnered with Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality to canoe the Chickahominy with the Watershed Educators Institute, made up of field educators from organizations across Virginia. Below is just a glimpse of that beautiful day out on the water . . . 

 —Text and photos by Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

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Paddlers gaze up at an osprey nest high in an old cypress tree. Osprey pairs usually mate for life and often return to the same nest year after year.
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River and forest merge on the Chickahominy, allowing intrepid canoeists to explore watery passageways among the trees.
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CBF Educator Alex McCrickard examines a yellow drake mayfly that had fallen into the river.
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A feisty mud turtle comes out of its shell.
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A fisherman shows off a bright yellow perch reeled in from a dock along the Chickahominy.
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Field educators examine fish caught in a seine net pulled near the river's shore.
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A small colorful sunfish pulled from the Chickahominy shines in the May light.

 


Teachers on the Bay

Image003Last summer, I participated in CBF's Chesapeake Classrooms course, Teachers on the Bay, thanks to a scholarship from the Garden Club of the Northern Neck. My goal was to bring some of the participatory lessons CBF teaches back to Northumberland County Public Schools, specifically middle schoolers and my 6th grade Community Problem Solving team, which I tasked with taking on a Chesapeake Bay-related problem.

Some of my students come from families who have worked on the Chesapeake Bay for generations; others have never been out on the water. What most students and I have in common is a lack of hands-on understanding of the Bay.

The week-long teachers education program began on the Rappahannock River where we learned how to test water quality and watched the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries electrofish to monitor species, most of which were invasive blue catfish. We listed types of marsh grasses, species we sighted, including 50 bald eagles in our first hour out on the water and a nesting pair of peregrine falcons that live under the Robert O. Norris Bridge in Tappahannock. We motored part of a route once traveled by Captain John Smith, some of which has barely changed. We also learned about the threat of development to the river and Fones Cliffs, where we spotted most of the eagles.

After two days on the Rappahannock, we went out on the Bay and tested the water at about 126 feet, one of its deepest points. We spent the rest of our time at CBF's Fox Island Education Center in the middle of the Bay. We learned the purpose of marshes and climbed into thick gooey mud holes, a practice known as marsh mucking (highly recommended!). At one point, I was buzzed by what turned out to be a peregrine falcon on its way to harass some oyster catchers.

Image002Across the water, watermen from Tangier and Smith Islands scraped Bay grasses for crabs, a method that glides a mesh bag over grass beds. We, too, scraped the underwater grasses, bringing aboard oysters, crabs, pufferfish, and the occasional seahorse to observe, study, and then release. In a few months my 6th grade students would be doing the same thing, punctuated by squeals of delight, though some still apprehensive about handling a crab swiping at them.

Last year, Virginia Gov. McAuliffe signed an executive order, establishing the Environmental Literacy Challenge, a voluntary effort to increase meaningful, outdoor experiences and sustainability projects to improve student knowledge about their environment. Finding school time and money to accomplish this is a task, but I found there are resources from grants, support from local businesses as well as state and local officials who will volunteer their time.

In our county, a local environmental group, Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship funded a fall trip for a group of 7th and 8th grade students aboard a Waterman Heritage Tour. The trip along the Little Wicomico River and out to the Bay was modeled after the CBF teacher's program. Students counted species, learned how water quality is tested from a local shellfish sanitation official, and toured a working oyster aquaculture farm and oyster house. 

Also in the fall, my 6th grade Community Problem Solving team of 14 students spent three days at CBF's Port Isobel Education Center. Students crabbed, scraped, tried out a new tow net, did a night walk and marsh mucked. They spent time on Tangier Island visiting Mayor "Ooker" Eskridge's crab shanty where they saw shedding crabs and tried wrangling his eels. They walked the island to get a feel for life there and watched a movie at the museum about how the island is disappearing from rising sea levels, subsidence, and erosion. They were touched by the experience and back at school they announced their problem solve would be to "Save Tangier Island."

IMG_0337Their resulting two-year project encompasses raising awareness through education and fundraising to build a living shoreline to help the people of Tangier remain on their home or to help them move if it ever comes to that. The students have partnered with Tangier Town Manager Renee Tyler and participated in a webinar and other interactions with the Norfolk Division of the Army Corps of Engineers to learn more about living shorelines.

Last month, Tangier Town Manager Tyler invited the students to meet with the crew of the Polynesian Voyaging Society's Hōkūleʻa expedition when the Polynesian voyaging canoe visited Tangier. The resourceful students held a bake sale, got a grant from NAPS, and another $100 from the school superintendent so they could hire a heritage waterman to take them to Tangier. They then invited Norfolk Army Corps Commander Col. Jason Kelly, Corps Scientist David Schulte, and Virginia Institute for Marine Science Scientist Molly Mitchell. Along with Tangier's 6th graders and educators from the Hōkūleʻa, the group sat together and discussed climate change and Tangier’s fate along with the potential loss of its heritage and culture.

Community Problem Solving teams are a great way to align environmental literacy with classroom work, and CBF's teacher professional learning courses enabled me to use new lessons (and those shared by other teachers) to do just that. I have about one hour each week to pull students out of a morning class to work on their project. My team's work is entirely student driven while I coach. The students conduct research or bring in experts and plan field trips. The program usually runs for the length of a school year, but this time students are committing two years to the project due to the complexity of their problem. Community Problem Solving and environmental literacy are a great way to keep students motivated and focused on a project as they become active and knowledgeable members of their community.

 —Pamela D'Angelo Hagy
Hagy is a journalist covering the Bay for public radio and various publications as well as a part-time educator.

If you'd like to participate in a Chesapeake Classrooms teacher professional learning course this summer, see the schedule and course descriptions at www.cbf.org/CCsummer. There are still openings on a few courses!


What's Bill Seeing in the Field: Opportunistic Eagles

For more than 30 years, CBF Educator and photographer Bill Portlock has been exploring, documenting, and teaching the wonders of the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. With his vast, intimate knowledge and experience with the watershed, we thought who better to check in with about what he's seeing in the field right now . . .

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On a recent spring morning, I was fortunate to be in my skiff on Cat Point Creek, a tidal tributary of the Rappahannock River in Richmond County, Virginia.

Eagle-rich Fones Cliffs, just four miles upstream from Cat Point Creek, is a unique Bald Eagle concentration zone, with thousands of eagles from Labrador to Florida as well as native Virginia birds using the area for nocturnal roosts, foraging, and (for residents) nesting. Many eagles spill over into Cat Point to forage on its abundant fish, primarily blue catfish and gizzard shad, but at this time of year there are migratory river herring and shad in the river. That the herring spring run to spawn is tied to bald eagle reproduction is yet another interwoven cycle of nature. It is a cornucopia of protein for a couple of months.

Bill1One eagle caught my attention that day by successfully capturing an alewife, a river herring just in from the ocean to spawn, in an oxbow of the creek. After the successful catch, he flew to a low branch over the water to eat his catch. Males are about 20 percent smaller than females, and when females are incubating eggs, males do most of the fishing. I allowed the ebbing tide to quietly drift me toward the scene. Today, this eagle was more focused on consuming his meal than paying attention to me.

Alewives and blueback herring are related to hickory and american shad and are members of the herring family (Clupeidae). These are anadromous fish, meaning they spend the majority of their adult lives at sea and migrate up coastal rivers in the spring to spawn in freshwater.

Bald eagles reproduce earlier than most birds in the Bay region, starting nest construction or repair in December and January. Egg laying and incubation takes place as early as December (and can run until March) in the Chesapeake Bay region. The hatching and rearing of young eagles takes place from March to June. Thus, the spawning run of herring and shad feed young eagles and the parents.

There were dozens of Wilson's snipe feeding on insect larvae, worms, and other invertebrates in the arrow arum marshes. These medium-sized shorebirds frequent the creek during winter before migrating north in April. Two pairs of blue-winged teal and a handsome pair of common mergansers were the only ducks present. But the main show on Cat Point that morning was this adult Bald Eagle capturing and eating this 12-inch river herring right in front of me.

4At one time in the not-too-distant past, coastal rivers supported thriving herring and shad industries, with millions of fish harvested each year. However, populations of these fishes declined dramatically in the last century due to dam obstructions, overharvesting, and pollution. The river herring fishery (which includes the alewife and the blueback herring) has been one of the most valuable in the Bay, with annual catches once exceeding 8 million pounds in Maryland and 30 million pounds in Virginia.

Opportunistic feeders, bald eagles also catch ducks, turtles, and small mammals (muskrat size). But fish make up the bulk of their diet, especially in warmer months. Availability of non-migratory gizzard shad and the introduced blue catfish make up the majority of prey captured now.

But on this day, a migratory alewife was the prey of this hungry eagle. Drifting slowly in my skiff to within 30 feet of the perched eagle, I was able to quietly watch and photograph the eagle. I  felt privileged to be there.   

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

What else is Bill seeing in the field these days? Click here to see.

 


Photo of the Week: This Is What It's All About

IMG_5169[I took this] on Smith Island on Wednesday, April 20. Myself and another William H. Farquhar Middle School teacher took a group of our students on one of CBF's overnight education experiences

I chose [this photo] because this is what the trip is all about. Students were able to take a moment to not just enjoy the gorgeous sunset that night, but also be able to do it while enjoying the Bay itself. The students loved every moment of this experience and this was just one of their many highlights.

—Matthew Green

Ensure that Matthew, his students, and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—the plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign] cbf.org, along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

 


Five Ways to Celebrate Earth Day!

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Photo by Nikki Davis.

"The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity . . . that's all there is. That's the whole economy. That's where all the economic activity and jobs come from. These biological systems are the sustaining wealth of the world." —U.S. Senator and Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson

 

While this Friday marks the 46th year since U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson said those beautiful words and founded Earth Day, we're firm believers that every day ought to be Earth Day. In that spirit, here are five ways you can celebrate Earth Day in the Chesapeake region—not just this Friday on the actual day, but right now and through the coming weeks:

  1. Shake some shell, plant a tree, pick up trash! Whatever your fancy, there are tons of ways to get out in the field with us this spring and do something great for our rivers and Bay. From our 28th Annual Clean the Bay Day to our tree and oyster plantings to the Earth, Water, Faith Festival, click here to see all the different upcoming volunteer opportunities and events in your area.

  2. Test your knowledge of our favorite bivalve and take the oyster quiz! For every quiz taker, The Orvis Company will donate $1 to our oyster restoration efforts.

  3. Sail the Bay on our 114-year-old skipjack the Stanley Norman, canoe the islands of the Lower Susquehanna at dusk, or explore Baltimore Harbor at the height of spring on our 46-foot workboat the Snow Goose—there's no better way to learn about the Bay and its rivers than being out on the water. So sign up for one of our Bay Discovery Trips!

  4. Celebrate this week's National Environmental Education Week by signing up for a Chesapeake Classrooms Professional Learning Course or another CBF education experience. Not a teacher, administrator, or student? Just take a look at how powerful learning outside can be in our Facebook photo album. Then share it with your friends!

  5. Show us your vision of the Bay and its waters! The undulating glow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the quiet tidal marshes of the Eastern Shore, cool rocky streams in Pennsylvania . . . What places inspire you? Show us by submitting your photos to our Save the Bay Photo Contest! Hurry, contest closes this Friday.

—Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media

 


What's Bill Seeing in the Field: Egret Colonies

For more than 30 years, CBF Educator and photographer Bill Portlock has been exploring, documenting, and teaching the wonders of the Chesapeake and its rivers and streams. With his vast, intimate knowledge and experience with the watershed, we thought who better to check in with about what he's seeing in the field right now . . . DSC_2980
The Great Egret is a large wading bird common to the Bay but residing largely along the Southeastern U.S. coast in winter. As spring arrives, they move north and west to begin building their stick nests in rookeries with other egrets and, often, with Great Blue Herons.

Earlier in April, near Blacksnake Island there were six pairs of Great Egrets and a single pair of smaller Snowy Egrets setting up housekeeping in a forest of loblolly pines and oaks in full flower. Their new nuptial plumes glowed in the afternoon light and waved in the 10-knot southeast wind. An osprey passing overhead got their attention but they remained in the canopy. There were nests to build and soon, eggs to incubate. An egret colony in its earliest, pre-nest stage: another sign of spring.

—Photographs and Text by Bill Portlock, CBF Senior Educator

What else is Bill seeing in the field these days? Click here to see.

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Creating Jobs—and Environmental Awareness

The following first appeared in the Baltimore Sun.

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CBF's Snow Goose in Baltimore Harbor. Photo by Captain Craig Biggs.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is proud to be part of the BLocal campaign ("A commitment to 'BLocal' in Baltimore," April 8). While small by comparison to other partners, we recognize that our business choices can help support our city's economy.

CBF is uniquely qualified to assist in another way. We have committed to train BLocal interns through our on-the-water Baltimore Harbor Education Program. Interns will be exposed to a hands-on estuarine science curriculum on board our 46-foot bay workboat, the Snow Goose.

CBF's widely acclaimed education program was recognized by President George H.W. Bush with the nation's highest environmental honor—the 1992 Presidential Medal for Environmental Excellence.

The Baltimore Harbor program, one of 15 across the region, was launched in 1979 at the request of the late Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

For 49 years, over a million students have received training at one of our environmental education centers. Now, BLocal interns will have the opportunity to study the remarkable array of creatures that live in the harbor, conduct water quality tests, and discuss the challenges of an urban environment. It is a great investment in Baltimore's future.

—William C. Baker, CBF President


Nurturing Principals to Lead the Way in Environmental Education

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Administrators on a CBF Principals Program. Centreville Elementary School Principal Dwayne Young is on the far right.

Nurturing is undoubtedly an important word in the environmental world. And as much as the Bay needs it, so do people . . . even principals. Yes, they are powerful, intelligent figures in the community, but when providers like CBF nurture, support, and steward those smart, passionate people into environmental education, worlds collide and "they can change a community," says CBF's Teacher Professional Development Coordinator Cindy Duncan

Duncan has been leading CBF's three-day Environmental Leadership for Principals course since the program began 11 years ago. A classroom teacher herself for more than 20 years, she has seen the power of working with administrators who go back to their school community after being part of the CBF experience. Through experiential learning, resource investigation, and collegial discussion on a CBF experience, principals learn how to design a school program that utilizes and benefits the school environment. What's more participants are able to gain first-hand experience on the Chesapeake Bay while developing their leadership skills. 

But why is a field experience with the Bay such a powerful tool for leadership development? How does looking at natural and social systems for three days on Port Isobel Island translate into positive change in a principal's school? Gerald Lieberman's book, Education and the Environment: Creating Standards-Based Programs in Schools and Districts, is one of the textbooks for the Principals Program. In it, he explains that "student success—job prospects and ability to participate in a civil society and contribute solutions necessary for maintaining a healthy environment—depends on their ability to identify, analyze, and balance the multitude of factors that can affect the environment." 

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A schoolyard restoration project that Centreville Elementary School Principal Dwayne Young initiated after returning from a CBF Principals Experience.

Understanding the value of environmental education allows principals to grow as they personally dive into Bay content, discuss the challenges and successes of cultural change at a school with a mentor principal, and create an action plan to use when they return home. Working with administrators is creating change at the individual school level all the way up to entire systems. And the power of that experience on the water with us only grows stronger as a principal returns to their leadership position armed with increased knowledge, a renewed passion for success, and a network of fellow principals to make change. 

Dwayne Young from Centreville Elementary School in Fairfax County came on a principals course 10 years ago, recruited others to join him back at school, and initiated and completed schoolyard restoration projects (see photos). He now has a cadre of passionate teachers and staff within Fairfax County Public Schools—the largest school system in Virginia—who all work on environment-based education. They have created their own program for the entire county called Get2Green that uses the environment to incorporate project-based learning; Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM); and inquiry-driven, student-centered learning. Members of the Get2Green team have presented with Cindy Duncan at national conferences about their partnership and incredible results for student success. 

The Virginia Beach Public School system has also seen positive and broad change as a result of a single principal's participation. That principal, Dr. Aaron Spence, is now the superintendent for the entire system, which has been partnering with CBF for curriculum alignment and teacher professional learning for the last four years thanks to a NOAA B-WET grant.

From CBF's perspective, the nurturing has just begun. Three days in the field with school administrators is only the start of a relationship that includes constant communication, support when the red tape back at school seems endless, follow-up events for continued networking, and national opportunities to broadly disseminate teacher and student success stories. Stories that would make Lieberman proud.

—Allyson Ladley Gibson 

Click here to learn more about CBF's 2016 Environmental Literacy for Principals and Administrators program.


What Did You Do on Your Spring Break?

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An unusual group of laborers could be seen bending and lifting in the distance on Paul Quick's farm in Union Bridge, Maryland. They were students from the University of Virginia, doing community service earlier this month as part of an Alternative Spring Break program.

While many of their classmates were still sleeping in, these 10 UVA students were working up a sweat as the sun rose and delivered unseasonably warm temperatures.

Each year at this time an inspired slice of students from many colleges commit to spending their spring break helping in the community in various ways. The UVA students volunteered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where they worked at the organization's Oyster Restoration Center and Clagett Farm for several days, and then one day to help Quick on his farm.

IMG_4651Quick decided several years ago to put his farm in a conservation easement, to honor his father-in-law's wishes that the old dairy farm not be developed. As part of the arrangement, Quick used federal funding to get 20 acres of trees planted along streams on the property. The trees help buffer the stream from possible polluted runoff from the corn and soy crops.

Those trees have now matured. The students' job was to cut off plastic sleeves called "shelters" that had protected the young trees from hungry deer. With about 7,300 trees needing this attention, it was a day of hard labor for students who may be more accustomed to a library or classroom.

The labor was equally strenuous earlier in the week at CBF's Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side, Maryland, where the students cleaned debris off old oyster shells before planting them in restoration efforts. Those shells, which will be used to grow oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay, are heavy. The students had to use a simple device to lift a pallet full of shells above their heads and "shake" the pallet. It was hard work.

But the students said this was the way they preferred to spend their vacation: "It's worth it, but boy, it was a lot of work," said Maggie Daly, a Third-Year biochemistry student from Yorktown, Virginia.

IMG_4646"My shoulders will be sore tomorrow," said Sarah Overton, a First-Year student from Herndon, Virginia.

Daly said she considers herself "environmentally conscious" but wanted to put that ethic to work in the field so to speak. Overton said she felt the same, and also saw the program as a way to see another part of the region. She had always wanted to visit Annapolis, for instance.

Another student, Conner Roessler, a Fourth-Year from Midlothian, Virginia, was doing the program for the second year in a row.

For his part, farm owner Quick said he was glad for the help. He said the conservation easement required him to plant some trees to help buffer his farm streams, but he decided to plant far more.

The trees not only will help keep the streams clean, they also will provide habitat for deer and other wildlife which Quick enjoys.

Rob Schnabel, a CBF restoration scientist who worked with the students, said trees not only help prevent pollution and stream erosion, but also help cool the stream so trout and other aquatic life are more apt to survive. Unfortunately, Maryland is far behind in its goal to get the banks of farm streams planted with trees, he said.

—Tom Zolper
CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

Check out more photos of these inspiring students in the field.