Golden shovels glinted in the morning sun as county officials helped students plant the first of 22 trees at Brandywine Elementary School Friday morning.
And a few miles north in Oxon Hill, John Hanson Montessori elementary students tentatively petted a rooster’s smooth feathers and exclaimed over the four colors of eggs laid by hens at Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center in Accokeek.
The south county schools were celebrating April’s twin environmental holidays Earth Day and Arbor Day with events that highlighted the importance of protecting and preserving the environment, school and county leaders said.
“Every opportunity we have, we’ve got to stress the importance of the environment,” said County Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) who participated in Brandywine Elementary’s Arbor Day tree-planting.
“Young kids need to have that value instilled early. We’re losing a lot of our rural communities to sprawl, and fewer children have access to the environment.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) also accepted the county’s 28th consecutive Tree City USA award on Friday at Brandywine Elementary, a nod from the national Arbor Day Foundation to the county’s annual commitment to planting trees, teaching residents about the role trees play in an ecosystem, and observing Arbor Day, celebrated on the last Friday in April.
Each April for the past 16 or more years, the county’s beautification committee has selected an elementary school at which to plant several trees such as this year’s sugar maple, willow oak, Yoshino cherry, sweet spire and other species that students agree to care for throughout the school year and over the summers.
“It shows the Prince George’s County government is serious about the environment,” said R. Calvert Steuart, the chairman of the beautification committee.
And fourth-grade students like Jakai Washington and A’Rissa Marshall learned the specifics of planting and caring for trees, as well as the benefits they provide, when employees from the county Department of Environmental Resources helped them place, secure and water the trees in pre-dug holes on Friday.
“It gives us oxygen and paper and pencils,” said A’Rissa, a 9-year-old from Brandywine. “Without trees, we wouldn’t have oxygen to breathe.”
At John Hanson Montessori, classes rotated on Friday through stations set up by guest presenters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the Washington Sanitary Suburban Commission, Hard Bargain Farm and others as the culmination of the school’s earth spirit week that emphasized conservation and an awareness of the factors affecting the environment.
Theresa Bond, the community outreach coordinator for WSSC, ran a lab for students demonstrating how various contaminants affect the water supply. As students watched, Bond added various “contaminants” baking soda, plastic forks, paper towels and dyes to a jug of water and asked them to reflect on the environmental consequences of everything from littering to cars that leak oil.
“This is our future,” Bond said of the students. “We have to explain to them what we’re doing on land affects the water.”
Lynn Hollyfield, the parent chairwoman of the school’s environmentally-conscious green team, said the week underscores the emphasis on nature present in the hands-on, self-directed Montessori approach to learning.
“Being out in nature, there are so many learning opportunities,” said Hollyfield, whose 11-year-old daughter attends John Hanson Montessori. “It’s so important for [students] to have that connection to nature.”
The school started this week a Waste Not, Want Not lunch, Hollyfield said. Students are encouraged to compost and recycle the leftovers and refuse from their school lunches, and those who bring a lunch from home try to pack food in reusable containers.
Second-grade student Jessica Santos, of Oxon Hill, said the week’s activities taught her to care for the earth.
“If you don’t take care of the earth, we might not have food, trees or air,” she said.