Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Education’

Embracing the Living Building Challenge

November 19th, 2015

By Karen Jensen Miles

Sponsored by the United States Green Building Council, Greenbuild is the world’s largest conferenceLiving Building and expo dedicated to green building. The green building community gathers annually to share ideals and mutual passion. The conference features uplifting speakers, unparalled networking opportunities, showcases, LEED workshops and tours of green buildings in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Greenbuild offers a place for thousands to gather and renew their commitment to the green movement.

This year, Greenbuild is hosted by the National Capital Region chapter. The Alice Ferguson Foundation is honored to have been chosen as the site for two of the carefully vetted tours. On Monday, November 16th, we were the last stop on a day long tour entitled ‘River Ride Along the Watershed’, where attendees visited our new education campus that contains the region’s first ‘Living Building’. Attendees learned how this site embraces the principles of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), while also continuing their day of education about the perils threatening, and opportunities arising, for the area’s watershed. The presenters discussed the foundation’s mission and history and why it was important for our organization to embrace the LBC; an introduction to the LBC; and an overview of the building and the site’s water systems that included existing site conditions, project priorities, supply water, waste water and stormwater. Attendees also participated in an interactive, educational lesson called ‘Who Polluted the Potomac?’ that highlights the types of activities that all of us do that impacts our natural waterways. They also walked the site to see the ‘flow’ of water on the site.

On Friday, November 20th, a technical tour comprised of about 50 attendees and ten presenters will arrive at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center to learn about the Living Building Challenge (LBC) in the context of our project. There will be information about AFF as a whole; the project description and development to include: design process, charrette, construction process; rainwater and the site; water and energy; materials used; and LBC lessons learned. Our LBC project is being monitored carefully by the ‘green’ world of architects, engineers, planners, contractors and governmental agencies. We are very excited to be under the microscope since our experiences will aid others as they determine the various routes and responsibilities they want to undertake in the future.

Spring Fever at Hard Bargain Farm

April 17th, 2014

By Ann Bodling, Children’s Garden Associate

Annie and goatsYou know how it is, those first warm days of spring, when you feel you can tackle any adventure that comes to mind and no destination is deemed too far away. Our barnyard animals had just such a day, a couple of weeks ago and several Hard Bargain Farm staff spotted our cow, goats, barnyard rooster and turkey in unexpected places. As it was also a day of many students going through our barnyard gates, opportunities for escape were plentiful, and apparently, too good to pass up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt some point in the morning, Annie, our cow, and Dot and Dash, our goats, found an open portal to adventure and moseyed up the road leading from the barnyard to the Farmhouse. All ended well, as Eileen, our farm manager and Karen, our facilities manager escorted them back down the road and into the barnyard for a little while, at least. A few hours later, Dot and Dash discovered yet another unsecured gate and let themselves out for a bit of grazing, though they stayed near to home this time and reluctantly allowed themselves to be led back to where they belonged.

Wanderlust was not just a mammalian state of mind on that eventful day. Among the fowl who call Hard Bargain Farm home are a tom turkey who was raised among chickens and a wildish rooster who came to us from one of our naturalist’s flocks. Both must have been feeling the tug of springtime and, seemingly, both felt the urge to find our hens, housed a ways up the hill from the barnyard. Later in the day, I found the rooster looking quite at home in the one chicken yard that lacked a male, and the turkey strutting and gobbling outside all of the chicken yards, in turn.

Turkey and Rooster in Black Stars Yard 003When you attend Spring Farm Festival on May 3rd, you will find our turkey and rooster happily dwelling among the hens, rather than down in the barnyard where they once lived. You will also be able to visit with our cow and goats, as well as our sheep and lambs, donkey and geese down in the barnyard. As exciting as was our day of Spring Fever, we prefer to know the whereabouts of all our animal members. After all, they are family.

A Truly Meaningful Watershed Education Experience

March 31st, 2014

This Guest Post by Lynn Talbott, Fifth grade teacher, Hendley Elementary School, Washington DC, is written about her class’ experience during the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center’s 3 day two night Meaningful Watershed Education Experience sponsored by the District Department of the Environment


Within an hour of arriving at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, my nineteen students and I were seated in the common room, awaiting lunch. Several of my kids spied a stink bug under the bench and immediately screeched! My first thought? This is going to be a long three days. If my inner-city fifth graders were going to screech and holler over every critter they see…well…maybe we aren’t ready for this learning opportunity, I thought.

Fast forward to our last morning on the farm. We were split into two groups and were led through interactions with the farm animals. We fed the pigs and lambs and milked the dairy cow, Annie. One of our groups was mid-milking when Annie, how do I write it politely, needed to relieve herself. The students were unfazed. No screeches, no yelling, nothing. They kept on milking.

HandleyESDAY Dip NettingWhat happened in those three days that turned my stink bug squealers into professional cow poop handlers? Risks. Lots of risks. Risk taking is a commonly used term in my classroom community at Hendley Elementary School in southeast Washington DC. We are always taking risks by volunteering answers, sweating it out with a difficult math problem, helping another learning partner or asking for said help, taking social risks, and so on.

At Hard Bargain, my learning partners met challenges like passing each member of the group through a spider web without triggering a bell that was affixed to the top, sorting leftovers into trash, recyclables, and pig food, as well as exercising their knowledge about food webs, animal adaptations, and watersheds. They had to sleep in a bunk room with their peers and teachers. Some slept away from home for the first time. Many spent FAR more time outdoors than they are accustomed to spending. Bird watching, woods walking, and hill rolling are not on their dance cards in southeast DC. These are risks, careful and rewarding ones, but risks nonetheless.

Successfully taking risks, having open minds, and stepping outside their collective comfort zone turned my stink bug squealers into cow poop professionals. They learned that they could acquire content knowledge while enjoying new surroundings. They let down their pre-middleschool cool personas to trust their learning partners and leaders. I will add here that while our classroom community is relatively peaceful, arguments happen and tempers flare from time to time.

HendleyDSBoardWalkDisagreements seldom occurred while during our stay at Hard Bargain Farm; kids who do not typically interact did
so with ease. The interactive model set by our team leaders, the time spent outside, and approaching science content and team building in new ways brought out the very best in my learning partners.

In closing, I would highly recommend a stay at Hard Bargain Environmental Farm Center to any and all of my fellow DCPS educators. The time and effort spent pay off in spades. You and your students will be changed and more knowledgeable. I can hardly wait to be back on the farm with a new group of learning partners in 2015. I will be prepared for the stink bug squealing…and the valuable learning experiences.

It’s All Fun and Games and Learning

February 25th, 2014

By: Emily Drobenak, Schoolyards as Classrooms Project partner teacher at Accokeek Academy

In early February each year, there is a convergence of minds in Ocean City, MD from an endless arena of education outlets. This was the second year in which I had the good fortune to attend the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education conference through my school’s partnership with the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Schoolyards as Classrooms Project. Last year, I gained invaluable information from a number of mini-sessions from waste reduction to excellence in STEM teaching. This year, I was able to dive deeper with a half-day workshop titled “Learn to Play, Play to Learn.” This session addressed environmental education practically and socially. Our energetic and enthusiastic instructors put us right into the games to experience the learning activities hands on.

Teacher's InstituteI was surprised but delighted when so many of the initial activities turned out to be teambuilding exercises. We gained a level of comfort and were able to get the most out of our workshop once a comfortable classroom environment was established. Meanwhile, we were also subtly, but purposefully learning and talking about our natural environment. These activities were fun, felt like games, AND had the underlying purpose of teaching. One such game was called Bats and Moths. The class forms a cave by grasping hands while a student is blindfolded in the center as the bat. In a fantastically scientific rendition of a game similar to “Marco Polo” or “Sharks and Minnows,” the bat must call out to the moth, another student, who must echo the calls. A group of adults, who may have long forgotten the joys of playing, had a blast playing, and so would students. Meanwhile, they are experiencing an animal adaptation that will open the doors for further discussion and inquiry.

The session really brought to life for me how important playing can be when integrated with learning. The activities will get kids excited about their natural environment. If they enjoy learning about the world around them, they will want to protect it and secure it for the future. While it is already well past halfway through the year, I plan to incorporate these activities into my classroom and schoolyard activities. My students will soon be learning specifically about animal adaptations and “Bats and Moths” would be a great exploration of that. However, we will also be able to use the game Owls and Crows to explore other content areas while keeping our local environment in the forefront.

Our instructors referenced a book from the seventies, “New Games,” and nature educator Joseph Cornell as great resources to use playing to learn in environmental education. I encourage you to look into the resources for yourself and help your students learn to play and play to learn!

Three Days and Two Nights at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center

January 28th, 2014

By Brenda Wright, Hard Bargain Farm Education Center Coordinator

“Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.”

John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf


My name is Brenda Wright and I have been a naturalist for the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center for the past 20 years. It is difficult for me to imagine that the kids I worked with back in 1994 are now adults with possibly their own children. I hope, if I had any impact on them at all, that they are sharing the world around them with the children who may be a part of their lives.

In these 20 years of teaching (and still ongoing) it never ceases to amaze me that there are 10-year old kids who, for whatever reason, have never had the opportunity to play in the woods. As a child I spent so much time in the woods exploring the natural world. My friends and I would spend whole days balancing on logs crossing the swamps and small creeks, looking at wild flowers and collecting as many different types of beautiful colored leaves as we could in the fall. Leaf rubbings were a favorite of mine.

I work with all ages of kids, but the 10-year olds generally spend the night, and for some this is not only the first time they will be walking through the woods but the first time they have spent a night away from home. During their stay at Hard Bargain Farm, many milestones are reached. Feeling the independence of being “on their own”, really getting to know their classmates and actually having the time to bond with other classmates that they may never have even taken the time to get to know before. It is an experience and transformation for many kids that will last a lifetime.

Last summer, the Alice Ferguson Foundation was fortunate to receive a grant from DDOE (DC Department of Environment). This organization has awarded many grants to the Foundation that made it possible for students in Washington, DC to visit the Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center. The latest grant differs in that they are funding the program for three days and two nights; this has been an amazing opportunity for the staff, students, and teachers. Having the extra day and evening with these students has been so rewarding. It gives us more time to help the kids to feel comfortable in the out of doors, being away from home, and bonding with their classmates. I hope it is a trend that will continue. These students have their campfire on the second night and during that time we ask them to reflect on their visit, and some of what they said was very touching and rewarding. Here are a few of the quotes: “I got to do things I never would have done”; “being in such a beautiful place”; “learn about birds, I did not know how amazing they were”; “I never thought I would stand next to a real goat”–and it goes on and on. I would like to end with a video of a teacher who was present on one of these trips.

And the Winner Is… Walker Mill Middle School

December 13th, 2013

By Everette Bradford, Community Outreach Liaison

Walker Mill Middle School officially adopted the Trash Free Schools project in the fall of the 2012-2013 school year, which gave momentum for the school to create a green team to tackle various environmental issues around the school including recycling and reducing waste.  Sidney Bailey, the founder of Walker Mill’s Green Team and claims that it was the motivation of the students and their will to recycle more that led him to join the Trash Free Schools project and create the green team.  Since its inception, the Green Team has been a rapidly growing entity at Walker Mill, where the students and teachers drive environmental stewardship and education through the hallways of the school.

Even though Mr. Bailey is no longer at Walker Mill Middle School, the project by no means is suffering. This year’s Green Team Leader, Mrs. Keisha Bennaugh is heading up the project and taking it in the right direction. The Green Team has doubled in size this past year and now has more than 100 students and multiple teachers. The students will continue recruit new members and teachers until they reach the goal of having school-wide participation in their efforts.

To help with their recruitment efforts, Mrs. Bennaugh brings her eclectic and artsy vibe to enhance the “green-movement” at the school. Students on the Green Team have worked with Mrs. Bennaugh to put fashionable flair on their Green Team attire,  which they are allowed to wear outside on their uniforms on Fridays. She also worked with the students to  create a large “green” mural in the schools media center. Along with encouraging creativity, the Green Team faculty also  challenge the students to take responsibility and work on professionalism and hospitality skills as they work to haul the schools recyclables from the school’s classrooms and offices.


The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Executive Director, Lori Arguelles, addresses the Green Team during the ceremony.

In addition to the great work that is taking place in the school, on November 15, 2013, the Green Team was awarded with their $1000 Grand Prize for winning the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Litter Prevention Video Contest. The school hosted a small ceremony in the media center that included guest speaker such as;Lori Arguelles, Executive Director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation; Mayor Kito James, Town of Capitol Heights; Sidney Bailey, former Green Team Leader and Vice Principal at Center City PCS; and Angela Angle, Policy Aide, Office of Prince Georges County Council Member Derrick L. Davis. Walker Mill Middle School was also presented with Certificates of Appreciation from the Town of Capitol Heights and County Council Member Derrick L. Davis.

The Green Team will utilize their prize money to research and retrofit the school with plants that will improve the indoor air quality. The students also have a desire to procure more recycling bins for classrooms and the hallways and begin greening and planting exercises on the schools exterior. Other future projects for the Green Team include creating a central meeting location for the Green Team, joining in on the Anacostia River Restoration Project efforts, and looking to host a trash free carnival. In the meantime, the Green Team will begin planning activities for the annual Potomac River Watershed School-Yard Cleanup and continually seek more funding sources to complete their projects.

Don’t Litter Feed the Can, Man!

October 1st, 2013

By Everette Bradford, Community Outreach Liaison

This Summer, the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF) had the opportunity to work with approximately 275 youth, ages 6-12, at five Summer Playground Camps through Maryland National Capitol Park and Planning Commission. Each camper completed two sessions, a cleanup of their summer playground, and learned about the litter issues both in their neighborhoods and the Potomac River Watershed. The campers learned about some of the successes and also some of the challenges in working to create a behavior change when they were given a visual tour of the Regional Litter Prevention Campaign and shown some of the work implemented in the Trash Free Communities and Trash Free Schools projects.

Over the course of two weeks, campers were able to identify trash hotspots and determine how long it would take certain pieces of litter to either decompose or biodegrade through use of AFF’s “Trash Timeline” lesson and activity. Both campers and staff showed great fascination especially in learning that a plastic bottle could take nearly 450 years to decompose in the natural environment. Participants were also tasked and given insight on how to reduce litter through the items they pack for their lunches. Outside of learning how to pack a “Trash Free Lunch”, campers were given insight on buying in bulk, which will reduce packaging along with saving their parents money.

LitterPosterAlthough some of the campers admitted that they themselves were litterers and also knew litterers, they pledged to change their ways and even spread what they learned to friends and family. Participants were deemed honorary members of the Alice Ferguson Foundation and tasked to create ways in which they could positively impact the litter issues in their homes, schools, and communities.

If you would like to take control, take care of the trash in your community and be an honorary member or the Alice Ferguson Foundation, try the following:

Overcoming Obstacles at Burrville Elementary

August 12th, 2013

By Everette Bradford

On Thursday, June 6, 2013, roughly 350 students at Burrville Elementary School in Washington, DC worked to complete a schoolyard cleanup. Although April was cleanup month, this cleanup was especially important to me because this has been a very challenging year for the Trash Free Schools Project at Burrville Elementary.

In the 2011-2012 school year, Burrville Elementary School signed the Trash Free Schools Pledge to become a Trash Free School. The 4th and 5th grade students were very motivated to engulf upon actions to improve the quality of the school and the surrounding Deanwood neighborhoods in Washington, DC. In many regards, the students were successful and earned an above average grade on their Trash Free Schools Report Card for the work they completed in their first year of the Trash Free Schools project. Here at AFF, we thought that the momentum would carry over into the 2012-2013 school year; however, it did not. The school was restructured and the Green Team leaders from the previous year left the school.

IMG_0521[1]Suddenly the world had come to an end! After some discussion with Mrs. Roper, Burrville’s Principal, we learned that she really liked the project and was pleased with the educational opportunities afforded to the students through their participation.  Mrs. Roper gathered another group of teachers to take control of the project and I soon learned that the new Green Team Leaders were Pre-K and 1st grade teachers.

In many of our Trash Free elementary schools, we work with 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade teachers to get school-wide buy-in from a ‘top down’ approach. With Burrville Elementary the situation does not met the normal measure, which makes this school unique. This school will work to ensure the entire school is brought into the Trash Free Schools Project from a ‘bottom up’ approach with the Pre-K and 1st grade teachers leading the project.  At Burrville Elementary, we will reach students from the time they are three years of age until they are ten years of age. This opportunity will serve as a pilot to cultivate future environmental stewards and expose them to the dynamics of leading environmentally friendly and sustainable lifestyles at such young ages. The 1st grade students are well on their way, as they have already managed to cultivate plots of land that they have used for growing fresh vegetable and herbs!

I am very optimistic that this year’s Green Team will carry over into next school year and that they will have the tools necessary to tackle the trash problems in the Deanwood neighborhood. Students and teachers alike are already looking forward to various projects next year which include:

  • Expanding the Green Team to include more teachers and parent participants;
  • Creating a school wide composting plan;
  • And expanding the school’s vegetable and herb garden.

Truly Treemendous Tales from the Field

August 5th, 2013

By Elizabeth Rives, Bridging the Watershed Program Coordinator

Admiring a Majestic American Sycamore at C&O Canal Historical Park

Admiring a Majestic American Sycamore at C&O Canal Historical Park

“Look at that – that tree is tight!” exclaimed a bubbly six-grader from Accokeek Academy while walking to the site for a Bridging the Watershed field study. Fortunately, I’ve hung around enough tweeners and teenagers to know that tight, in teen-speak, means “stylish, cool, having everything together,” according to the web-based Urban Dictionary. The student was admiring the striking white silhouette of an American sycamore tree on the banks of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park at Great Falls Tavern.

At BTW we thrive on those “aha” moments when learning becomes relevant, or “tight,” to a student’s life. We’ve become accustomed to hearing such exclamations over a crayfish, or an especially large and menacing hellgrammite the students have netted in the creek. Sometimes the awe is even over chemistry when a water sample magically turns from dark blue to clear. But it’s not often about a tree. So for me, a devoted tree enthusiast and tree identification teacher, I couldn’t believe my ears when it was a tree that inspired that level of enthusiasm.

Prince William Forest Park Features 15,000 Acres of Trees

Prince William Forest Park Features 15,000 Acres of Trees

And then, to my delight, it happened again the next week at Prince William Forest Park — a park whose main claim to fame is 15,000 acres of trees. All those tree roots soak up pollutants from runoff before the water drains into Quantico Creek, making it one of the most pristine streams in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan region. For BTW students, that means a boundless diversity of insects to study. For one North Stafford High School AP Environmental Science student, however, it sparked an unsolicited and lengthy private discussion with me about non-native trees and their impact on the surrounding ecology! Now that was perhaps as thrilling an “aha” moment for me, the educator, as it was for the student.

Greenbelt Watershed Watchdogs; Faye Austin March 23, 2011 057

Central High School Teacher Faye Austin at Greenbelt Park

Four days later at BTW’s advanced teacher workshop on benthic macroinvertebrates I got my third tree “aha” in three weeks. This time it came from a teacher who, at the end of the workshop, suddenly remembered she knew me from a workshop on tree identification I led the previous summer at, where else?, Prince William Forest Park. To my surprise, amusement, and embarrassment, her face lit up as she shouted, “Oh, you’re the tree lady,” toward the end of my talk on field logistics. Okay, so maybe this one wasn’t so much about trees, but at least she had associated me with trees and remembered that she had taken a workshop to learn how to identify them.

If you’re wondering what my take away was from that flurry of tree “aha” moments, that’s easy: all good things come in trees, er threes.

Environmental Justice Workshop

July 23rd, 2013

By Everette Bradford, Community Outreach Liason

Enviro Justice-3Recently I had the opportunity to bring my experiences working with communities to an Environmental Justice Workshop for DC’s Department of Public Works’ SWEEP Summer Youth Employment Program. I had the pleasure of engaging with a cohort of environmentalists who are working to solve some of the Districts most pressing issues.  Through a series of hands-on exercises, we modeled the institutions, resources and strategies available to help the youth participants correct social injustices and environmental issues. Three modules were presented to the youth participants. Each module included a presentations and interactive lessons to help the students identify various components in their lives.

“The Self” – Who am I and what is my value as an actor/innovator/influencer? In this module, the participants were tasked to engage their co-workers, in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of who they are, where they live, what are their interests, and what are the concerns and issues plaguing their communities. The participants were also challenged to identify their strengths and what qualities they possess and can utilize to impact change within their communities.

“Neighborhood & Community”– What do I recognize about the places I frequent each day? In this module, participants learned about two perspectives of the District of Columbia. From one vantage, the District is home to many of the nation’s most prized monuments and statues, the White House, and well-manicured landscapes, including the Cherry Blossoms. Although many of the participants were aware of these jewels they are also aware of the “alter ego” of the District, which includes environmental degradation, crime and poverty ridden neighborhoods, litter filled streets and waterways, and a lengthy list of environmental issues that are readily classified as social ills.

“City & Region” – What are the institutions affecting the opportunities surrounding us? In this module, the participants learned about the resources that are available and spread throughout the District. Participants were grouped by ward and tasked to geographically map and identify schools, churches, community centers, libraries, and office suites that can play major roles in spreading their campaigns.

Enviro Justice-2The participants were able to draw best management practices based from sample campaigns and then guided through a step by step process to build their own local campaigns that will  impact their issues and measure the success of their efforts

As the day winded down, the participants were also able to draw from the 85 years of life and wisdom from a woman and local DC champion, Mimi. In all that she shared and offered the most important point raised was that in “listening”, their campaigns will flourish. From this workshop, three campaigns were born; a campaign to address and control the litter issues, a campaign to fight homelessness and afford this population with more readily available transitional opportunities, and a campaign that address the gaps in life after High School and services that would help recent graduates select the path most efficient for them.