Half rock, half flesh, the oyster living in a murky water world is an alien species to most children growing up Baltimore. Thanks to collaboration between Under Armour, two Baltimore schools and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), at least some lucky students are getting a hands-on, educational submersion into that world.
Under Armour, a sportswear manufacturer, allows students from The Green School of Baltimore, and from The Patterson Park Public Charter School to grow oysters at the company's Locust Point headquarters on the west side of the Inner Harbor. The oysters grow in protective cages dangling from an Under Armour pier at the site.
Every two weeks since the fall, the students visited the nursery with their classes, and collected data on the oysters' size and mortality. Being scientists, the students didn't call their subjects baby oysters. NO. They called them spat. Being children, however, they also got real excited handling aliens.
This week, in the culmination of the project, students from both schools collected the spat, and transported them with the help of the CBF workboat Snow Goose to an established sanctuary reef off Fort Carroll Island just east of the Key Memorial Bridge. After cleaning the spat and recording some final measurements, the students tossed their educational offspring into the choppy waters as cormorants looked on from their island perches.
"I knew nothing about oysters,' said Atlas Pike, a student in Charlene Butcher's fourth-grade class from The Green School as he reflected on the project. " I learned about their life, and I learned how they help the Bay."
One reporter covering the oyster planting live for WBAL Channel 11 News said in his broadcast the children knew an "amazing" amount about oysters and about the Bay. That's not by chance. The project was woven into the curriculum of the schools. All good environmental education programs engage students, but also provide context for learning, help children make critical connections between disciplines, and increase achievement.
CBF actively works with many Baltimore schools to provide environmental education opportunities, especially within the Inner Harbor. The Snow Goose takes children from the city on harbor research field trips virtually each day from March to October. CBF's Oyster Gardening program also is a way for children and families to grow oysters in cages, help restore the Bay's oyster population, and to learn about Bay ecology. But children often don't have access to waterfront to grow the spat, especially within Baltimore City.
Under Armour officials said they gladly offered their pier as an oyster nursery as part of its community relations efforts.
"Baltimore is our home and the Chesapeake Bay is in our backyard. We're happy to support, contribute to, and learn more about restoration efforts," said Will Phillips, who manages Under Armour's Green program.
CBF coordinated the oyster gardening program for The Green School and The Patterson Park Public Charter School to use the Under Armour facility. The Green School uses experiential environmental education to improve student achievement and to increase stewardship for the environment. The Patterson Park school aims to develop well educated, community-minded children by providing high-quality, community-based and real-world education that capitalizes on the diversity of nearby neighborhoods.