ICPRB’s Score Four Program makes headway in Prince George’s County, Md.
Maryland has more than 10,000 miles of rivers and streams—spanning from the Appalachians to the Eastern Shore—each being of vital importance to the Chesapeake Bay. Our treasured waterways range from small, unnamed creeks in our neighborhoods to the grand Potomac River. They serve as habitats for species that are important to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and provide essential natural services to our environment. We depend on our waterways to help grow our crops, feed our reservoirs, and provide food, drinking water, and recreational activities. The value they provide is of great importance. It is imperative that we keep our streams healthy because the water, life, and pollutants in them eventually flow into larger rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. The quality of the Bay is dependent upon the quality of our streams.
Unfortunately, only 20 percent of Maryland streams meet the criteria for “good” condition. Most streams have eroded stream banks, are polluted and filled with sediment and litter, and lack an abundance of wildlife. With 80 percent of our streams in poor or fair condition, we should all work to protect them and to improve their water quality. This past school year, students in Prince George’s County, Md. did just that. More than 400 students removed approximately 700 square feet of turf grass and replaced it with gardens containing more than 200 native trees and plants that increase infiltration and absorption of runoff, reducing the amount of pollution that enters their local streams.
During the 2015-2016 school year, three Prince George’s County public high schools participated in ICPRB’s Score Four: Students, Schools, Streams, and the Bay program, led by ICPRB educators Rebecca Wolf and Nguyen Le. These schools included the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, and Parkdale High School in Riverdale. The Score Four program leads students through the process of exploring their watershed and assessing their school campus in order to develop a Stormwater Action Project aimed at reducing stormwater pollution to local streams.
Students began the year exploring their watershed by researching their local stream and learning about stormwater pollution sources and reduction methods. They were excited to discover that their local stream was within walking distance of campus and learned what they could do to improve its quality. During their research, they learned about the negative correlation between impervious surfaces and stream quality; the higher the amount of impervious surfaces, the lower the stream quality. Impervious surfaces do not allow water to infiltrate into the ground. Stormwater runs directly into storm drains, carrying trash and other pollutants into the stream or river, eventually making its way to Chesapeake Bay.
In the next phase of the program, the students assessed their campus by performing scientific inquiries to determine how their campus contributes to stormwater pollution. These inquiries helped students understand key concepts related to stormwater issues on their campus that would assist them in developing their project. They conducted a campus assessment to identify stormwater paths, problem areas, and possible locations for their project. They also investigated the permeability of the school grounds, as well as soil percolation and composition. With this data, the students determined their secondary project goals and project site, then selected native plants and created a design for their garden. Through this process, the students were able to tailor a project to their individual school campus.
At the Academy of Health Sciences, social studies teacher Carmen Wright and biology teacher Apollo Cordon, envisioned installing a conservation landscape on campus. A conservation landscape reduces stormwater runoff while beautifying the campus and attracting wildlife, such as beneficial insects and butterflies. After performing research, collecting data, and selecting plants, the students used their creativity and math skills to develop potential designs for their garden. Teams of students created 30 potential designs. The students presented their designs to their classmates and used a scoring rubric to judge each design, with the highest scoring design from each class entered into a design contest. Students then voted for the winning design. The final design for their garden centered on an eastern redbud tree as the focal point surrounded by butterfly milkweeds, New England asters, black-eyed Susans, and Joe-Pye weeds, totaling more than 60 plants. Bright orange blooms of butterfly milkweeds with plentiful monarch butterfly caterpillars greeted the students upon their return this fall.
Kari Rowe, an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher from Northwestern High School, also envisioned a conservation landscape on campus. In the beginning of the program, it was difficult for the students to fully understand the concepts. However, despite the language barrier, the program was able to be adapted with guidance from Ms. Rowe. By the end, the students displayed their understanding and confidence through the success of their garden. The students designed the garden in a classic “bean” shape, planting more than 60 shrubs and perennials. The garden transformed the area with beautiful blooms of blazing stars, black-eyed Susans, and vibrant purple berries on their beautyberry bush.
Environmental science teacher Malka Ostchega had different visions for her students at Parkdale High School. She envisioned installing the beginnings of a food forest on campus that would continually develop throughout the years. Her students researched edible native plants that would meet their site conditions. They planted more than 70 trees and shrubs, ranging from persimmon trees to blackberry bushes to blueberry bushes, on a large hill near the entrance of the school. By selecting to plant on the hill, the food forest is optimally placed to reduce runoff.
At the conclusion of the program, the students celebrated their efforts and their gardens, taking great pride in what they accomplished. One student described how she valued implementing a project to address the problem of stormwater pollution instead of just vaguely talking about how we can help the environment. The students became environmentally knowledgeable and felt driven to continue to make a difference in protecting the valuable assets of Maryland’s landscape.
The success of this program was dependent on the cooperation, hard work, and dedication of the students, teachers, partners, and sponsors. Thank you to the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and Chesapeake Bay Trust for providing funding through the Prince George’s County Stormwater Stewardship grant program.