Chesapeake Connections Environmental Outreach Program
Don Sholl, middle school and elementary students from 17 Anne Arundel County Schools in partnership with Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, Anne Arundel County
The staff at Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center provides support and expertise to complete yearlong environmental service-learning projects as part of Chesapeake Connections with many Anne Arundel middle and elementary schools. The service-learning projects are infused into each school’s curricula and involve using community areas or school grounds for environmental restoration activities.
Best Practice 1: Meet a recognized need in the community
Anne Arundel County’s Outdoor Education Center, Arlington Echo, works with many middle and elementary schools to restore and/or create bogs, gardens, and runoff areas on school grounds or in the community. These projects meet growing environmental needs in our area and help protect the Chesapeake Bay.
Students become aware of environmental problems by conducting research and discussing the plight of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Students survey local streams and grounds and explore how erosion control is being implemented on school or community properties.
These environmental projects help the entire community, particularly the schools, the Chesapeake Bay, the Anne Arundel County Watershed Network, the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works, and the Master Gardener Association.
Best Practice 2: Achieve curricular objectives through service-learning
Although each school has the same curricula to teach, the school staff and the Arlington Echo Outdoor Specialists tailor the environmental stewardship hands-on experiences to the uniqueness of the school site where the project is centered. Each content area shares responsibility to implement a quality service-learning project through the Chesapeake Connections project, which is infused in the goals and outcomes of their particular content area. The project currently involves students from Grade 1 through Grade 8.
Best Practice 3: Reflect throughout the service-learning experience
Students engage in variety of reflection opportunities on their experiences. Some students write summaries of their projects for publication in the local newspapers (Maryland Gazette), other students create scrapbooks and journals of their work, or write their experiences into the formats being used in their language arts classes (poetry, narratives, etc.) Students also hold reflective discussions with the Arlington Echo staff to help develop future project ideas.
Best Practice 4: Develop student responsibility
Students are involved with the Arlington Echo specialists and their teachers throughout the Chesapeake Connections project. They take responsibility for co-planning the project as wall as take leadership roles at the different stages of the project. Students are responsible for growing ‘native’ Maryland plants at the Center for Applied Technology’s Greenhouse, replanting or repotting those plants when grown, and cultivating and preparing the site of the project. Projects included designing ecological gardens and preparing erosion areas with better drainage and native plants to assist with the erosion control.
Best Practice 5: Establish community partnerships
Chesapeake Connections is a joint venture that includes the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, Center for Applied Technology North, local PTA’s, the Master Gardeners Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Each school location develops unique partnerships with community organizations. Parent volunteers enhance the success of this project through their sweat and support.
Best Practice 6: Plan ahead for service-learning
Chesapeake Connections can be described as a “Five Course Meal.” It is through participating in all components of the meal that teachers and students realize the rich cultural and biological heritage that we have in the Chesapeake Watershed. These components strongly support Maryland’s service-learning model:
- Appetizer - Staff development for teachers which includes Chesapeake Watershed update, curriculum, and restoration integration suggestions;
- Intermezzo - Coordination of program expectations between the principals, teachers and outdoor education staff;
- Anti Pasta - Classroom instruction that supports county and state curriculum;
- Soup - Outreach instruction at the school to extend classroom instruction & learning
- Identify schoolyard or community restoration projects
- Work with experts to design, plan, and coordinate projects;
- Entrée - Relevant hands-on activities at the greenhouse to propagate native plant species for projects
- Supplemental activities such as “Grasses In Class,” “Terrapin Head Start Program,” and the “Yellow Perch Project;”
- Dessert - Implement restoration project.
Best Practice 7: Equip students with knowledge and skills needed for service
Course content is enriched through participation in Chesapeake Connections when students connect the content being studied with a hands-on service-learning activity. An important aspect of Chesapeake Connections is relevance of the activities. Relevancy assures that the content planning is solid, that the action is truly beneficial, and that reflection leads to a true understanding of stewardship.