Browsing articles in "Bay Education"

Virginia Elementary School Keeps Bay In Mind

By Brian Hooks  //  Bay Education  //  26 Comments

In April of 2009, Manassas Park Elementary School, in Manassas Park, Va., was unveiled with a certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The Manassas Park Cougars’ new $33 million den boasts innovative methods for reusing water and harnessing sunlight.

Not only is the structure physically eco-friendly, but the walls and floors keep the environment in the minds of students –every classroom is named after a plant or animal native to Virginia and the students walk on floors outlined with images of local wildlife.

Thomas DeBolt, superintendent of Manassas Park schools, touted the new gem of the school system in a story for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, saying, “Every drop of water that falls on this campus doesn’t go into the Chesapeake Bay. It goes in a big cistern, and we pump it back up and use it.” DeBolt said the construction cost would have been roughly the same for a conventional building, which would have required about 50 percent more energy to operate.

VMDO, an architectural contracting company out of Charlottsville, Va., designed the structure, which holds more than 800 students from third through fifth grade. “The highest and best hope we have … is that graduates from this school will be ecological stewards,” said Wyck Knox, project architect for VMDO, in a video produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program.


Bayville: Teaching Children about the Chesapeake

By Kate Yanchulis  //  Bay Education  //  24 Comments

How do children learn about the Chesapeake Bay? With books, with music, even with direct experiences, from boating to swimming to playing. But “Bayville”, a Web site started by Maryland Public Television in 2007, attempts to harness the power of the Internet to connect kids with the bay.

But how successful is it? That’s what I set out to discover.

Though “Bayville” makes it clear that it welcomes everyone interested in learning more about the Chesapeake, the site targets Maryland middle school students. It provides teacher’s guides, curriculum charts, and an optional log-in feature that allows users to save their work and progress, making the site easy to incorporate into the classroom.

The textual sections work mainly toward this purpose so that teachers have a wealth of material to utilize. For example, the section of frequently asked questions about the Chesapeake gives an understandable if somewhat simple breakdown of the science, environment, culture and history of the bay, clearly keeping its preteen audience in mind. But without direction from a teacher, most kids would not stay long enough to sift through all the questions and answers, which lack any images or color to spice up their presentation.

Much more effective are the seven interactive activities that make up the heart of “Bayville.” As I know from experience with my fifth-grade sister (and from my own short attention span), anything that includes visual stimulation and/or the chance for “winning” automatically becomes 100 times more exciting. Though not cutting-edge technology, especially now, after the site’s third birthday, “Bayville” definitely holds more appeal than a textbook.

I think one interactive in particular did the best job of getting its point across while remaining fun throughout. “H2Oh No!” teaches about the water cycle and how humans affect it with run-off, using a series of games as well as actual pictures of the bay to demonstrate the lessons and problems.

Another ambitious section, “Bayquest,” takes you on a virtual tour through various bay habitats to find different animals and plants. I enjoyed “traveling” to the different locations with different forms of bay transport, from kayaks to skipjacks, though I wished I could learn why the vehicles changed from habitat to habitat.

A bigger problem rested in the animal descriptions, which could overload readers with information and seem too dry for its middle-school audience. Relating the topics more to the students – how their actions could impact the animals and ecosystems – might work better. But in “Bayquest,” at least, the thrill of the hunt tided me over any particularly boring bits.

No matter the smaller issues, “Bayville” provides an informative – and usually fun – primer on the Chesapeake Bay, both for kids and kids at heart.


One Step at a Time

By Sharon Behn  //  Bay Education, Pollution  //  32 Comments

There is always an 800-pound gorilla in the room. That one subject no-one really wants to talk about. In the discussions on how to save the waters and shoreline of Chesapeake Bay, and the entire six-state watershed that leads to the estuary, the one subject that’s never really broached is the American lifestyle.

We all contribute to the pollution and devastation around us. We put artificial fertilizers on our lawns, we waste water, we have too many dogs and cats, we prefer lawns over trees, and we want easy, practical and cheaper living, not less convenient, more expensive, environmentally friendly lifestyles. I am among this group.

But perhaps there are ways to improve bio-diversity, water quality and the urban environment without having to pull on a hair-shirt and wash out of a bucket.

One way suggested by scientists in England and published in the February edition of the magazine Trends in Ecology and Evolution is to use private gardens as socio-ecological constructs and developing wildlife-friendly gardening.

The authors say that as urbanization increases and “the natural environment becomes increasingly fragmented, the importance of urban green spaces for conservation grows”. Gardens, they argue, are not isolated, they exist in conjunction with other gardens, parks and nature reserves and can link to form habitat networks. With that in mind, they suggest that neighbors coordinate their garden plantings in such a way as to encourage bio-diversity.

Of course, that would require talking to your neighbors. It would also require thinking about what you are planting and how you are gardening in a completely different way.

Environmental landscapers are already thinking along these lines. Luke Jessup of Father Nature Restorative Landscaping in the DC area (perhaps understanding the individual vs community dynamic) recommends a mix of mini-environments in one garden: a meadow in one area, fruit, vegetables, flowers that attract pollinators, and no chemicals.

Saving the Bay, keeping waters clean and soils healthy, encouraging biodiversity, working with rather than dominating the environment, are all goals that will require collective thought and effort and considerable changes to the way people currently live. Maybe taking small steps, such as in one’s own back yard, is one way to start.

About Us

Bay on the Brink is a multimedia reporting project examining the fate of the Chesapeake Bay. It is produced by fellows at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism as part of News21, a consortium of journalism schools. This is the fellows' blog. The full project site is here:
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A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr
A photo on Flickr