GRASONVILLE — More than 480 students learned first-hand about the importance and thriving ecosystem of wetlands at Grasonville Elementary School during Wetlands Day Friday, June 7, led by the students in the school’s environmental Gracie Club.

Lanette Power-Waters, an administrative assistant at the school, said the best classroom is a living one complete with a wetlands area 50 feet by 20 feet that includes a bridge for students donated and built by Friel Lumber and Myco Construction.

“We want to make sure all students are aware of their environment and how they can protect it,” said Power-Waters. “We need to ensure our environment is sustainable for this generation and those that follow. We provide different grade levels with different areas on which to focus like fourth-graders learning oyster restoration and the filtering the water in the Chesapeake Bay.”

Activities overseen by members of the Gracie Club for the rest of the student body included birding to show the indigenous bird species in the area, netting to better see the biodiversity in each scoop of water, seeding to examine mud and create more pollinators.

Under the watchful eye of fifth-grade teacher Billy Richardson, the club’s sponsor and founder, approximately 50 students spend the entire academic year and volunteer to learn about the numerous cycles and science behind wetlands.

Peg Donavan, a parent who volunteered to help create the wetlands at the school, was among those responsible for creating a living classroom with its own specific ecosystem.

As part of the celebration, the Nick Reedy Band played live music as students enjoyed their lunch outside.

“It’s amazing that every student learns about what it takes to keep our Eastern Shore clean and healthy. Every little thing matters like learning to recycle or conserving electricity and they take that back to their homes,” said Power-Waters.

Queen Anne’s County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Andrea M. Kane and Michael Page lead partners from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, local nonprofit Environmental Concern Inc., and Washington College on a “Wetlands Day” site visit to see children engaged in action projects and field experiences in environmental habitat.

It was an opportunity for QACPS to showcase and explain its new Environmental Literacy Matrix developed with grant support from the Chesapeake Bay Trust in partnership with Environmental Concern Inc. and Washington College to establish a continuous environmental learning structure for students kindergarten through third grade.

“Our partners truly enhance the education of our students,” said Kane, co-chair of the national Superintendents Environmental Education Collaborative. “Our new environmental literacy plan helps our teachers prepare children to be good environmental stewards while they develop the skills and knowledge needed to pursue emerging careers.”

QACPS piloted its plan in grades K-3 last school year before implementing this year. The Chesapeake Bay Trust provided an $80,000 grant in 2017 to restore and build new schoolyard environmental habitats at all eight Queen Anne’s County public elementary schools to serve as outdoor classrooms suitable for addressing and investigating watershed issues, stormwater runoff, species diversity, native plants and pollinator habitat.

“The Trust is thrilled to be a part of a partnership that takes environmental science outside of the classroom and supports teachers with the necessary tools to guide the next generation of Chesapeake Bay stewards,” said Dr. Jana Davis, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

“We are connecting children with nature through observation, investigation and creation. The students are exposed to a natural habitat in their schoolyards, encouraging them at a young age to respect and care for the natural environment and to share this knowledge at school, at home, and in their communities,” said Suzanne Pittenger-Slear, president of Environmental Concern Inc.

Early partnerships with the Washington College Center for Environment and Society began development of the QACPS Environmental Literacy Plan and were supported by funding from the federal Math Science Partnership and NOAA B-WET grants. Teachers received 75 hours of professional development between 2013-2017, including the “Rivers to the Bay” program designed by Dr. Douglas Levin of Washington College. The plan’s development continued with a team of dedicated teachers developing the backbone for the plan, adding curriculum in 2017-2018 and full implementation for students in 2019.

Environmental Concern and the Washington College Center for Environment and Society are providing resources at each grade level to support the primary teacher’s role in developing environmentally literate citizens.

“As a QACPS and Washington College graduate, it has been extra fulfilling and exciting to watch this process come to fruition. The teachers’ commitment, willingness to adjust teaching strategies, and enthusiasm for teaching and learning new content and science practices is amazing,” said Jemima Clark, education program manager, Washington College Center for Environment and Society

The QACPS Environmental Literacy Plan blends in-class lessons, teacher professional development, on-campus action projects and field experiences for students.

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