Posts Tagged ‘Environmental Education’

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.

From Field to Table

July 20th, 2013

By Sharon Rabie, Naturalist Associate


Traditional skills for self-sustainability Health & Food (Agriculture connections)

homeschoolgarden_3This hands on educational workshop series explored traditional knowledge of “self-sustainability”.  Rural American farm families developed methods of providing for their basic needs by growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparing healthy nutritious foods, clothing, and handcrafted everyday items.  Social customs, values, and culture developed around these  activities.  Many of these skills were passed from generation to generation and have been lost to modern citizens.  Participants will renew their connection to Agriculture (and stewardship of the earth) by researching and participating in historical methods of harvesting, preserving, butchering, fibers, and practical handicrafts.

The first class meeting in September contained “APPLES” as our theme.  We learned about the history, nutrition, mythology, and enjoy making applesauce, apple jelly, apple butter, and other delicious apple recipes.  Students learned how to safely preserve their harvest for future enjoyment or home canned gifts for others.  There was a visit to the orchard to learn about the life cycle of the apple tree, tasting of variety of apple varieties.

October Farm to Table Lesson continued to explore traditional methods of food preservation. During the 18th century, drying, curing, sugaring, pickling, etc., were some of the most common methods of preserving food.   Students canned apple jelly, applesauce, and apple butter last month and learned about the use of sugar, heat, and creating a vacuum seal on jars using a boiling water bath to preserve the food inside jars.  In October’s session we investigated other techniques such as  smoking, dehydration. fermentation / pickling & brining,  root cellar storage used by early American farm families to preserve their harvest and provide a sustainable nutritious food supply for themselves and their livestock.  There were demonstrations, tasting, and some work to be done in the barnyard.

Each student started the day in November with a live rooster.  At the end of the day, there was a fresh chicken to take home for the dinner table.  This session was the overwhelming favorite of participants.  It was unexpected that they so embraced the poultry processing workshop since it involves butchering.  There were careful discussions of food chains, energy cycles, humane ethics, agriculture, respect for life, holiday feasts, and traditional human diets.

December was a hands on “Dairy Day” workshop which began with milking the cow, and was filled with yogurt making, butter churning, cheese making, and recipes for ice cream, kefir, and uses for buttermilk and whey.  There was a lot of tasting, discussion about the raw milk controversy, pasteurization (history and science), goat and sheep milk products, and the nutritional importance of mammalian protein for growing children.

We started the New Year by learning about whole grains and seeds. Students enjoyed a hot cereal tasting workshop with ancient grains such as spelt, kamut, buckwheat, barley, and more familiar, steel cut oats, sprouted tritcale. We visited the corn crib and seed room.  Participants learned about the “anatomy of a whole grain”, and the nutritional benefits of seeds.   We practiced reading labels carefully for accurate information about whole grains and how to avoid deceptive advertising.  Each student tasted sprouts and learned how to grow their own sprouts in a jar for a super nutritional boost at home.

February (which begins with the letter “F” like farm)  brought us to our Fiber, Fabric, Fur, Feathers, Fleece, Felt and FUN class.  Students picked, carded, and spun wool from sheep, goat, alpaca, bamboo, and angora rabbit.  The class focused upon how the fibers are harvested from animals and plants to be transformed into clothing and fabrics.  Each youngster learned to make felt and we crafted felted soap to take home.

In March, the class enjoyed “Egg-citement”.  Youngsters enjoyed a story called “Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones” to learn about oviparous animals all over the planet. There was a discussion about eggs we eat and all about chickens and their life cycle, anatomy, adaptations, and wild vs. domestic birds.  Students had an opportunity to see real eggs from many species. The importance of eggs (reproduction, nutrition, and biology) Incubation, life cycles, & adaptations were also introduced.  Hands on live animal interaction with diverse breeds of roosters & hens from all over the world,  Fertile eggs for incubation were provided to those which had incubators set up for students to participate in embryology at home.

Celebrating Watershed Heroes

July 10th, 2013

[Note: This week we are joining author Jennifer Chambers, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Blue Water Baltimore, in a blog tour to celebrate watershed heroes and the launch of Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle]

During Scout the Water Bottle’s journey in Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle, written by the educator, Jennifer Chambers, he learns about all the ways in which litter negatively impacts our environment as well as how each individual can make a positive difference. With the mission to connect people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship, and advocacy, we at the Alice Ferguson Foundation hope to take the students, teachers, and community members we serve on a similar journey where awareness will lead to action to protect our environment.

TFS 3 We are able to serve the community through three core programs: Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center, which provides outdoor-based experiences for appreciation,awareness, and lifelong stewardship of our natural environment for PreK – 8th grade students; the Bridging the Watershed program, which provides personally meaningful, educational experiences that connect high school students to their place in the natural world; and the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative, which seeks to create a lasting reduction of litter in the Potomac Watershed.

photo 2Our Trash Free Schools Project bridges our three core programs as it works to educate and empower students, teachers, and staff to reduce their school’s waste footprint by providing education and resources. As part of the project, students and staff at K-12 schools are provided with the resources needed to investigate and take action on an environmental issue by implementing a strong waste reduction and litter prevention strategy. Get your school involved at

We have recently revitalized the website, guidebook, and resource center for the Trash Free Schools Project to make sure that we can share the most up to date resources and opportunities with our schools. The Resource Center is designed to serve as the hub for perspective and enrolled schools to find activities, lesson plans, how-to guides, and other tools to help them organize, educate, and take action on trash. It allows us share curriculum plans to teachers while also providing them with service learning opportunities to complement them.

high resolution book coverAs we continue to look for useful resources and tools for our schools, we are always excited when we find a creative way to teach about the harmful nature of litter in our watershed. Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle fits the bill by painting the story of the journey of a water bottle from a Maryland storm drain to the Atlantic Ocean, through clever storytelling and compelling pictures. The book also provides tips to reduce plastic usage as well as other resources for students and teachers who are driven to action. We are happy to spread the word about this great resource and hope like Scout the Water Bottle, readers of this book will go on a journey of discovery and take action to preserve our watershed.

Growing Watershed Heroes in our Youth

July 9th, 2013

[Note: This week we are joining author Jennifer Chambers, the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Blue Water Baltimore, in a blog tour to celebrate watershed heroes and the launch of Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle]

Guest post by Jennifer Chambers, Hiking Along, LLC.

Eight years ago the idea for Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle was born from a lesson that I developed for a Montgomery Housing Partnership afterschool program in the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring. The afternoon’s lesson was dedicated to teaching about the life of litter. Students first engaged in a group trash timeline activity to guess the longevity of different types of litter. Then with an oversized map and individual ones of the Anacostia watershed, we mapped and developed a story of a juice box from the point of littering to the Potomac River. What animals would it meet along its float? How would the juice box impact the life and homes of those animals?

A few days later when reflecting upon the lesson, I realized it would make a great children’s story. The idea for the book was born. Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle tells 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.

Books are an excellent tool to bring issues alive and help children understand the relevancy it has to their own lives and the world around them, whether local or global. Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle allows kids to learn how litter and other pollutants impact the health of animals that make their home in streams, rivers and oceans. I hope kids will use the knowledge gained from this book to develop a relationship with their own stream in their backyard and to act upon their own stewardship to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, creating a generation of watershed heroes.

In a recent blog post by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, he stated, “ …to care deeply about pollution or species, you have to love nature; you must experience it early and often. From this perspective, all conservation is local.” Many local organizations are doing this, connecting kids with their local streams and rivers to foster a new generation of watershed heroes in our region’s youth. This week’s blog tour highlights three organizations that are doing this successfully.

Blue Water Baltimore’s mission is to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor to foster a healthy environment, a strong economy, and thriving communities.”

“The Alice Ferguson Foundation’s mission is to connect people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship and advocacy.”

“The Chesapeake Bay Trust is the only nonprofit, grant-making organization dedicated to sparking on-the-ground change for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in Maryland. Our goal is to increase stewardship through grant programs, special initiatives, and partnerships that support environmental education, demonstration-based restoration, and community engagement activities.”

During this week’s blog tour, each organization uses the theme in Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle and profiles their own program that is successfully facilitating youth ownership and stewardship of the region’s streams and rivers and engaging them to reduce the amount of litter in the Bay watershed. These three organizations are doing amazing work to connect children to nature and grow watershed heroes amongst our youth that will ultimately help the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries to be thriving ecosystems.

Eye Opening Event

June 21st, 2013

By Karen Miles,  Land Use/ Facilities Manager

We are in the midst of a two-week teacher institute for elementary and middle school teachers from Prince George’s County Public Schools.  This is something that I look forward to each year.  I view our work with many of the participants as molding a lump of clay and beginning the process of turning it into something of great beauty!  We open the eyes of so many people to things that are always in their surroundings, but never saw them through a lens that could process what was around them.  Each day brings a new “aha experience”.

Below are some photos of this year’s institute thus far. We will be updating throughout the week so stay tuned!


















Photos by Bill Townsend, more photos coming soon…

Breeding Season for Birds Leads to Nature Connections

June 11th, 2013

By Craig Makufka, Naturalist

Everyone take a minute and picture a baby animal. What expressions come to mind? I bet that for the majority of people it is something along the lines of “Awe, how cute, ” since pictures of baby animals usually illicit warm and fuzzy emotions. Now imagine seeing these baby animals in their natural habitat. Doesn’t that conjure up even greater feelings? Those emotions can produce powerful connections to nature. A baby is at its purest form of that animal, a joyous celebration of life.

photo 2This time of year, is the breeding season for numerous birds around the Farm, from the migratory Barn Swallow to the resident Northern Cardinal. Even the winter breeding Bald Eagle’s young are around just starting to take flight. With all these cute and fuzzy young birds around, there are many great opportunities to make a personal connection to nature. These connections are not just isolated to the children that visit here but also to the many adults who visit. Now I will admit that you and I will not have the opportunity to see most of the young birds growing in their nest here on the Farm, however, luckily for us, there are a few species that raise their young in easy accessible locations.

photo 1As you approach the barn, just look up and you will see many Barn Swallows flying gracefully through the air. They are on a mission to collect as many insects as they can in order to feed their brood of hungry nestlings. As you walk in the barn, plastered on the over-hanging boards, are twenty of so nests and each nest is filled with 5-7 fuzzy noise-making baby birds. Traveling from the barn toward the shoreline, you will see the many bluebird boxes, which create homes for bluebirds as well as but Tree Swallows and sometimes other species of birds. Besides the boxes, we have birds building nests in strange places around the farm, like the Eastern Phoebe who built a nest and fledged two chicks on top of an outside light at the lodge.

These various nesting habits allow for accessible observations of cute and cuddly baby birds. Each child and adult who come to the Farm throughout the year have the opportunity to learn about and experience the wonder and worth of nature and out environment. What better way to experience nature than by viewing a baby bird? A baby, the joyous celebration of life.

Everyone Appreciates Re-thinkers, Think Humanity

June 5th, 2013

By Everette Bradford, Community Outreach Liaison

TFS 3On Earth Day, April 22, 2013 more than 300 students at Forest Heights Elementary School took part in the 2nd Annual Potomac Cleanup and Earth day extravaganza. Students from Pre-k – 6th grade worked alongside each other to remove unsightly litter and debris from the school grounds and the local Oxon Run Creek. The day kicked off with students pledging to rethink. The school was covered in litter-prevention posters that highlighted the school’s motto and acronym for EARTH: Everyone Appreciates Re-thinkers, Think Humanity.

Mrs. Stephanie Jackson-Hinton serves as the school’s Green Team leader. She worked weeks prior to the event with the school’s Principal and faculty to schedule times for each class to come outside and participate. Each class had a one hour time slot to collect as many recyclables and litter as possible. The day was both educational and fun; students noted and discussed the harmful impacts of litter on Oxon Run Creek and their communities, and worked in teams competing in a school wide competition.

TFS1Before each class received their cleanup supplies, they were given safety instruction and quizzed and given safety instruction. Each class had to identify the types of materials that could be recycled or trashed. After the quizzing period, students were then tasked with breaking down into smaller teams. The teams consisted of those who would carry bags and those that would serve as the pickers. Students in Pre k- 2nd grade worked frantically to clean the schools play areas, including the front lawn, basketball courts, football field, playground, and jungle gym. They were even spotted taking a few minutes for early recess. Students in 3rd- 5th grade were tasked with cleaning the Oxon Run Creek and trail that runs behind the schools. The 6th graders ventured to the Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm to work alongside Park Rangers to complete water quality tests and litter pick-ups.

TFS2The older students were asked to sign additional permission slips and bring in extra clothing which allowed them to get into the water. The students worked to pull corroded materials from the creek bed. Students were eager to get into the creek because they were under the impression that the stream was dead and that conditions were so bad that no wildlife could inhabit the area. Students were amazed to see scores of tadpoles and even what appeared to be a large bass as the cleared the debris.

Students collected roughly 600lbs of trash including a tire, a motorcycle, three shopping carts, two vacuum cleaners, and a slew of other scrap metals and pvc piping. After students completed cleanup activities they enjoyed the clean school yard and held Trash Free picnic lunches. Future projects include gardening and planting and a Professional Development movie viewing of “Bag It” for faculty.

Chesapeake Conservation Corps: Inspiring a Move from the Bay Area to the Bay Area

March 6th, 2013

By Zoë Unruh, BTW Educator Specialist

A common question people ask me when they find out I’m from San Francisco is, “Seriously? Why did you leave?” My answer? The Chesapeake Conservation Corps. During my year of service, I worked with Montgomery County Public Schools Outdoor Environmental Education Program at the Lathrop E. Smith Center in Rockville. My capstone project as a Corps member at the Smith Center was to strengthen the service-learning component of the sixth grade Residential Program. At the end of my year of service, I landed a job with the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF), a non-profit with 60 years of experience in connecting people to the natural world, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed through education, stewardship and advocacy. This year, AFF is looking for a Corps member to assist with all aspects of AFF’s outreach environmental education programming, action project development and implementation of the Schoolyards as Classroom Project and Trash Free Schools programs. With my experience both as a Corps member and with AFF, this opportunity is the perfect way to start your career in the environmental field.

Even though most of my time was spent at the Smith Center, I didn’t just learn skills specific to MCPS Outdoor Environmental Education. I also learned how to develop a project and write a grant to fund it; how to install water bars on a trail; how to prepare an energy audit; how to design and present a poster; how to interview for a job; and, probably most importantly, how to network. That is the true beauty of the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s model – it provides ample opportunities to explore all sectors of the environmental field as well as prepares Corps members for a career beyond their year of service. This is accomplished in several different ways: (1) Corps members are expected to complete site visits at other organizations in the program – an opportunity to see what work is done elsewhere in the environmental community as well as a chance to meet important individuals that have dedicated their professional lives to environmental work; (2) Corps members are expected to attend professional development sponsored by the Trust – a great way to build up your experience to make yourself more attractive to future employers; and (3) Corps members have the opportunity to attend Chesapeake Bay Watershed-wide networking events – the best way to make contacts in the region if you’re interested in continuing work in the environmental field. I commonly hear of two problems with internship programs: (1) the intern is stuck doing busy work for the organization and does not benefit professionally, or (2) the intern does not provide any deliverables for the organization. The Chesapeake Conservation Corps model allows for self-direction for both the Corps member and the host organization – effectively getting rid of those common problems by allowing the two parties involved to mutually benefit. AFF has chosen significant projects for you to take ownership of, while providing flexibility for you to develop your own interests and passions. You will no doubt finish your year of service feeling like you have contributed to AFF’s mission and left a lasting impact on the organization, while at the same time gaining invaluable experience to continue a career in the environmental field.

So I moved from my hometown San Francisco Bay Area to the Chesapeake Bay Area for an opportunity that has ultimately led me to my beloved job with the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Bridging the Watershed Program. Not-so-coincidentally I’m currently working on a project to incorporate service-learning into the Program – a beautiful extension of the project I worked on while I was a Corps member. The Conservation Corps not only provided me with the skills to obtain my job at AFF, but also nurtured a passion for stewardship that I am able to continue in my new post. The Corps is a great training ground for a career in the environmental field, whether in non-profit management, education, policy, or scientific fieldwork. Who knows, you may even start a life-long love affair with the projects you engage in during your year of service!