Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Middle school students do their part to save the bay

Sixth-graders showcase their service learning hour projects at Chesapeake Bay extravaganza

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
Matthew Howell, 12, of Bethesda adjusts the oyster garden he made as part of a service learning project.
Standing in a hallway at Thomas Pyle Middle School in Bethesda, Hailey Laroe has quite a collection: a Deer Park water bottle, a Gatorade bottle, a Sierra Nevada beer bottle.

A burgeoning collector she is not, however.

Laroe, along with more than 460 of her fellow Pyle sixth-graders, volunteered at least 10 hours this spring to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, through a variety of projects. The hours are part of the students’ student-service learning requirement and Thursday night the students presented their projects at the second annual Chesapeake Bay Extravaganza.

‘‘I cleaned up some creeks in the area and went to clean up the Anacostia River with my church,” said Laroe, 12, of Bethesda. She found other bottles, snow fencing and a plastic pot along the Anacostia River and the Minnehana and Kenwood creeks in Bethesda.

Hundreds of projects lined the halls of the school Thursday. India Rose Harrison removed dangerous phosphate-containing cleaners from her house and replaced them with eco-friendly substitutes. Aaron Zimmerberg removed invasive garlic mustard plants from local parks. Michael Lombardo and Kyle Tong collaborated on a project planting trees at Bradley Hills Elementary.

According to Margaret Hall, a sixth-grade science teacher at the school, the parameters of the project were simple: volunteer time that helps the Chesapeake.

‘‘We just want them to understand that a little bit goes a long way,” she said. ‘‘This takes what they learn in the classroom and applies it to something tangible.”

At Thursday’s event, local, state and national officials joined the students and their parents, applauding their efforts.

‘‘People of my generation, we’ve done a crummy job of protecting the bay,” said Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D). ‘‘Now you can’t even swim in it.”

County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac, Montgomery County Board of Education Vice President Shirley Brandman (At large) of Bethesda and Jeff Lape, Chesapeake Bay Program Office Director for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, were also at the event.

Hall said many students struck out into the community to clean up Chesapeake tributaries and parks, while others stayed inside. A group of students wrote children’s books about the bay and its health, then visited elementary schools and day care centers to read the stories.

Alex Lesley, Ryan Savage and Matt Parrish’s project was one for the dogs.

The students learned about a cornstarch-based bag engineered to collect dog droppings, then decompose at a quick rate. The students visited dog parks and trails promoting the product, and even sold the idea to a local pet storeowner, who the three say will now carry the bags.

‘‘These bags take 40 days to decompose instead of the 100 years a normal plastic bag takes,” said Lesley, 12. ‘‘They’re good for everyone.”

While the event is important for the students, Hall said she hopes students will keep up with the projects.

‘‘It’s much more meaningful if you take it up and keep it going,” she said. ‘‘The students donated over 4,600 hours of service; hopefully it planted a seed.”