By Karen Miles
Every year the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center staff members conduct a two-week Environmental Science Institute and I knew that this year’s institute would be different from all that preceded it. This year was marked by a very large group of elementary and middle school teachers from Prince George’s County Public Schools, many of whom were hoping to learn more about the southern Maryland environment and push past their concerns about what might be lurking around every bush and tree branch.
Aside from increased content knowledge, the main thing we want the participants to take away from the Institute is a newfound skill – an increased ability to observe their surroundings. This skill comes with trusting our staff to guide them through some planned lessons and treks on both land and water. Once the teachers are able to relax in the outdoors, they can begin to see the world in a different light.
On Day 8 of the Institute, the 38 participants, staffers, and visitors were ready to tackle canoeing on Piscataway Bay. Everyone was pre-measured for their personal flotation devices (life vests) and paddles, assigned boat mates, and received instructions on water safety and canoeing techniques. Once everyone was loaded into a flotilla of 17 boats, the teachers were expertly guided to Mockley Point where they seined for fish and learned about the natural history of the general area. We then headed to the manmade islands farther upstream, where the teachers explored evidence of sea level rise, noted the flora and fauna of the islands, and ate their lunch. Afterward, as several groups raced back to the canoe launch, I was excitedly told by several people that they were going to take their spouses on a date – renting a canoe and showing them their spanking new skills.
During the two week Institute teachers realized that they were capable of doing so much more than they thought and it felt exhilarating. I, too felt, exhilarated. This institute is so important to both the teachers and the many thousands of students that will be influenced by them in the coming years.