Teacher Institute and Trainings of Summer 2016

September 13th, 2016

Teacher Institute and Trainings 2016
This summer 70 teachers from across the region received environmental education training from the Alice Ferguson Foundation education team in a variety of exciting locations, everywhere from the grounds of the Jefferson Memorial to a pontoon boat on Jug Bay to our very own working farm on the shore of the Potomac River. For many of our teachers turned students, these were opportunities to move from their comfort zone to their “challenge zone”, learning new ways to teach hands on science.

During our two week Teacher Institute with Prince George’s County teachers, staff from across AFF came to speak to our teachers on all of the exciting ways they could bring environmental concepts to life in the classroom. Julia Saintz from our Trash Initiative spoke to the teachers about creating Trash Free Schools and Trash Free Classrooms. Staff from the education team demonstrated multiple ways to teach watershed concepts, first using simple classroom tools and eventually moving outside to teach concepts that could easily be covered on a school’s parking lot or playground. Local experts gave tours of recycling, compost, and waste water treatment facilities that affect the daily lives of these teachers and the students they teach. Farm staff shared their expertise about gardening, soils and other topics that could be shared in the school setting. By the end of the Institute, the teachers became experts in field work, doing water quality testing and making assessments that they could do with their students.

Teachers who were nervous about being outdoors started with hands-on learning of simple lesson plans that could be used in the schoolyard, and over the course of two weeks were empowered to touch benthic macro invertebrates (creek critters), observe wild osprey, as well as kayak and canoe on the river. It was an exciting transformation for the teachers and for the staff who had the privilege of working with them.

With the Bridging the Watershed Teacher Trainings, local teachers met at National Parks to participate in student modules to learn to assess water quality through chemical testing, macro invertebrate sampling, invasive plant identification, and trash studies. They learned about the detrimental effects of human impacts, including marine debris and polluted runoff on drinking water and marine species. Teachers learned ways to bring these studies back to the classroom curriculum and prepare their students for outdoor learning experiences.

The most important part of all AFF education programs is to empower students with ways to have positive human impact on the environment. AFF hopes to model effective teaching on environmental issues by approaching people in their comfort zone and challenging them to learn more, teach more, and get more hands on.

One of our teachers wrote after the institute, “Our knowledge of how we are impacting our planet, and ways to apply science to solve and investigate real world issues was increased tremendously. . . My experience at Hard Bargain Farm was truly special and will inform my instruction and attitude for the years to come.”

Virginia Student from St. Stephens and St. Agnes High School Studies at HBF

June 23rd, 2016

Interning at AFF
By Camryn Collette

Teresa in the children's garden. Photo by Camryn ColletteFor my high school senior project, I volunteered 21 hours with the Alice Ferguson Foundation in Accokeek, Maryland. For our senior projects, we each proposed one question through a social justice lens that we would then attempt to answer. My question was, “How can I help to work towards more natural, peaceful, and greener ways for humans to live, while taking in consideration all forms of life?” I worked with Hannah Seligmann, Volunteer Maryland Coordinator for AFF’s Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, as well as, AFF’s Hard Bargain Farm educators. The facilities and land they have are beautiful; especially their newest building that is currently in the process of being certified as a Living Building, which is like nothing I have ever seen before. My favorite part of the Living Building was the solar panel roof and front deck made out of recycled plastic. One thing that makes AFF special is the amount of passion and enthusiasm the staff has. As Hannah says, they are a “small but mighty crew,” and she is absolutely right.

One of the many important things they do at AFF is educate younger kids from D.C., PG County, and other places in the metropolitan region about environmental issues, and how to make a difference towards saving the Earth in everyday life. Since the majority of these students live in the city, this program often connects them to nature for the first time. While I was on the farm, I learned lots of cool and useful facts and ways I can help work towards a more natural, peaceful, greener life for humans to live, and I am excited to share this knowledge with others. One of the many things I learned on the farm is how huge of a positive impact humans can make on the environment just by doing simple things, such as sorting trash from recyclables and picking up trash or recycling that has been littered.

Living Building at Hard Bargain Farm.  Photo by Camryn Collette

 

With new school year, changes are afoot

August 19th, 2014

By Keith Roumfort, AFF Education Program Manager

pollinator garden
The calendar says that January 1 is the start of a new year, but for many who enter classrooms either in front of desks or behind desks, or even send youth to them, September serves as the benchmark for a new year as so many things change. Outside the classroom, the world of nature marks these changes in different ways.
Nature pays no regard to the calendar or the holidays that bookend the summer season. Nature’s cue is the decreasing level of daylight (photoperiod) and decreasing evening temperatures. A careful observer gets to savor these subtle signs all for oneself as the fall season advances.
The tell-tale sign of our planet’s orbit past the summer solstice is the brilliant changes in colors in the leaves of deciduous trees. Those of us in more northern climes get to see this spectacle either in our yards or along roads. The food-producing leaves of deciduous trees face an annual dilemma: how to survive when the length of solar-powering energy decreases. These trees start cutting off these energy-draining organs off their branches, and with that the green-pigmented chlorophyll leaves too revealing red anthocyanins, yellow xanthophylls, and brown tannins. Keep an eye out for black gum trees amongst a forest of trees. Black gum (black tupelo) trees are often the first to flirt with an autumnal palette. Their simple, oval-shaped leaves begin to flicker with red-orange in a prelude to its neighbors’ leaves.
Evening entertainment displays in the backyard change too. Fireflies’ flickering light show fades into a symphony of chirping crickets. Whether it is light or sound, these displays are acts of courtship who don’t mind the human audience. On those crisp, cool fall evenings, count the number of chirps in 14 seconds and add 40 to that number to get the current outdoor, Fahrenheit temperature.
Those with a tuned ear will notice a change in bird calls and songs amongst the trees as light levels dwindle. Snowbirds aren’t just people who vacation in Florida. There are birds who take wing almost overnight for a long journey south in pursuit of more food. The bright songs of warblers and flute-like calls of thrushes become silent in our woods leaving behind the hardier stalwarts, like chickadees and cardinals.
With the ever-growing darkness, many wild plants start preparing for new offspring with forming and dispersing seeds. Whether spread by wind or by animal, seeds lay with dormant expectation until spring. However, not all seeds reach their expected potential; often they are the food source for fattening animals which realize an impending food scarcity is coming.
It’s human curiosity that we like to know what’s coming up around the bend. Nature gives us glimpses of some changes if we attune ourselves to them. If one doesn’t just see but looks, and if one doesn’t just hear, but listens, you can see all the subtle signs of an amazing season of change.

Grow Your Own Sweet Potatoes

May 14th, 2014

By Deanna Lutz, Director of Operations

Potted Plant with Sweet PotatoAbout this time last year, I wrote about how easy it was to grow potatoes in pots, but did you realize that the vigorous sweet potato vine that is commonly found in containers can actually be sprouted from sweet potatoes and that you can even harvest a crop of potatoes at the end of the summer?

swpotatoesSweet potatoes are easy to grow and the vibrant chartreuse foliage of the vine can’t be beat! They will quickly form roots when sprouted in water but did I tell you that sweet potatoes are super easy to grow? You can root them first or simply cut off the end of a sweet potato or two, or depending on how many containers you have and plant in your pot. Potatoes from most supermarkets are treated to inhibit the eyes from growing so try to use organic potatoes.Be sure to select a pot at least 12-15 inches deep and fairly wide to give the potatoes lots of room to grow.

harvestSweet Potato Vine will grow best during the warm days of summer, thriving in sun or shade and prefers moist, well-drained soil. You may begin to enjoy your home-grown sweet potatoes in late summer but it is better to leave them until the leaves begin to yellow and die back. In fact, leave them in the pot for as long as you can as an early frost will not damage them. Once harvested, allow them to mature for a week or so in the warmest area of your house with good circulation to allow the skins to ripen and the flavor of the potato to sweeten. Once mature, your potatoes are ready for use in cooking and will store quite happily in a cool dry place for a month or so. There’s nothing like the unforgettable flavor of a sweet potato that you grew yourself!

Potomac River Watershed Cleanup: Saturday April 5th Family Fun

March 25th, 2014

Guest post by Jessica McFadden, Blogger

Your family can get a jump on environmental activism (and fun!) before Earth Day by participating Saturday April 5th in the largest effort to clean both the Anacostia and Potomac watersheds, the annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup

This area-wide Cleanup offers many local sites where families can help clean litter from along streams and river banks. From Sligo Creek to Rock Creek Park to Northwest Branch, you can find a local clean-up site that is close to your home and close to your heart. Check out the map for locations throughout the DC Metro area in DC, Maryland and Virginia where you and your kids can serve and learn.

Cleanup in VALocal cleanup events mobilize volunteers young and old to pick up the trash littering our watersheds, and litter removal has a huge impact on animals in multiple ecosystems. Additionally, the Alice Ferguson foundation website states, “The Cleanup provides a transforming experience that engages citizens and community leaders and generates momentum for change.”

My favorite local environmental educator and activist, Jennifer Chambers of Hiking Along, says, “Kids like to feel impassioned that they are making a difference, and removing litter is an easy and productive way to feel positive about doing that.”

Jennifer Chambers is also the author of the great book for kids which bring environmentalism to their level, Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle. It is the story of a water bottle’s journey in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and Atlantic Ocean. Upon reaching a storm drain, the personified water bottle travels the streams and rivers of Washington, D.C., meeting animals along its ride. Each animal—from the water strider to the loggerhead turtle—teaches the water bottle about itself, its origins, its journey, and those of other pollutants in the watershed. Alima is the five-year old water bottle’s heroine; making us all believe we can be one too. 100% of the profit from the sale of the book is being equally divided between the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics program.

This book is a great read to share with your kids before or after participating in the April 5th clean up closest to your home! I will be reading with Charlie, Eve and Alice before we head to one of the 12 Silver Spring clean up locations we have to choose from. Please join us.

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