Along with a new language and social mores, English for Speakers of Other Languages students at Gaithersburg High School have the opportunity to improve their environment and earn the Student Service Learning Hours required for graduation.
The opportunity comes as part of a collaborative effort between the school, the Audubon Naturalist Society of Chevy Chase, the City of Gaithersburg and a grant from the State of Maryland Governor's Stream Restoration Challenge.
The city of Gaithersburg and the Audubon Naturalist Society received a $71,628 grant from the Governor's Stream Restoration Challenge to plant five acres of trees along Muddy Branch, a stream that runs through Gaithersburg to the Potomac River.
“It is estimated that 400 trees will be planted along Muddy Branch under this initiative,” a press release from the city of Gaithersburg read. “The trees and their root systems will prevent erosion by stabilizing the stream bank and their shade will improve the stream for wildlife.”
“It was a very organic collaboration,” Karen Vernon of the Audubon Naturalist Society said. “We have been doing a club for the Gaithersburg High School ESOL kids for the past two-and-a-half years.”
With the city of Gaithersburg having a similar program, the two groups started working together, Vernon said. The grant created an opportunity for them to continue the work jointly.
“Basically the issue is every student has to do service,” Pam Meador, Service Learning Coordinator for Montgomery County Public Schools, said. “Kids who are first generation are having a hard time meeting this requirement. They don't understand it and they don't have any connection to the community to get it done. We started an SSL club at Gaithersburg, partnering with Audubon Naturalist Society [as] an opportunity for kids to find meaningful ways to meet the graduation requirement.”
Club members, about 100 over the course of a year, according to Vernon, meet twice a month at lunch to learn about the environment and plan outside activities. During these meeting, she said, students work together to fill in the required SSL forms, practice their English and make new friends.
“They have just learned so much about the environment and recycling. It's had a much larger ripple effect than I ever hoped for.” Meador said.
The city of Gaithersburg will provide technical expertise and guide the students and volunteers from Muddy Branch Alliance and Kentlands GO GREEN, two local environmental groups who pledged nearly 2,000 hours to the project, in planting the trees. The planting is expected to begin in the spring and take about one year, according to the press release.
“This grant is a golden opportunity to inspire young immigrant students to care for the natural world,” Audubon Naturalist Society Deputy Director Lisa Alexander said in a statement. “By planting trees in their own neighborhoods, these high school students become instant environmental stewards who give back to their community in meaningful ways.”
The Gaithersburg, Audubon grant was one of 29 awarded in December as part of Gov. Martin O'Malley's Stream Restoration Challenge, according to Gabe Cohee, from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“The goal of the Challenge is to establish or extend 1,000 acres of forested stream buffers by 2016,” he said.
The Montgomery Parks Foundation was the only other group in the county to receive a grant. They received $25,000 and will work with students and the Montgomery County Public Schools Environmental Education Program planting trees along a different section of Muddy Branch, and two sites along Sligo Creek according to Cohee.