Calvert County schools 100 percent green again

May 16, 2012

The Calvert County public school system is closing out the school year by celebrating that all of its schools once again have been certified Maryland Green Schools.

Michelle Daubon, Calvert public schools’ Green Schools coordinator, said each school needs to recertify with the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education every four years.

Daubon said the announcement of the recertifications came late last month.

Calvert is the only county in the state with all of its schools certified, said Maryland Green School Program Coordinator Joanne Schmader of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

This year Beach, Dowell and Plum Point elementary schools; Mill Creek, Plum Point and Windy Hill middle schools; Patuxent and Northern high schools; and the Calvert Country School were all recertified.

The other Calvert public schools still have their certifications in effect and did not need to recertify this year.

Daubon said to recertify, each school needs to send to the state association a presentation or Web site explaining its environmental initiatives, in and out of the classroom, during the past four years.

Tom Harten, who teaches the environmental education program for Calvert schools — said although there is no financial reward for being a Green School, “it’s a way to have an outside validation that what you’re doing is environmentally sound.”

Schmader said the Green Schools program has been supported by the Maryland Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources; the latter has donated trees to some of the certified schools.

Harten said each certified school receives a flag and certificate.

“It’s really a way to raise the profile on your green activities,” he said. “It’s not a small-potatoes thing.”

Daubon said the Green School program in Maryland started in 1999, but the school system ramped up its efforts in 2006, and has since doubled its recycling.

She said the initiative was increased in 2006 so the certifications could “serve as a template to measure our progress in different areas” like recycling, energy conservation and habitat restoration.

Beach, Huntingtown and Patuxent elementary schools were three of the first schools certified in the state in 1999 and are now considered “model schools” and will no longer need to recertify, Daubon said.

Schmader said there are 22 model schools in the state.

Beach Elementary School Principal Michael Shisler said the school has been using its nature trail for outdoor education activities, but also takes advantage of Chesapeake Beach’s assets.

On Friday, Beach Elementary fifth-graders explored Fishing Creek on the town’s new boardwalk and trail with help from some of the town’s retired scientists to measure tidal flow and water turbidity, and saw the town’s oyster project.

“We have the best location for a school to explore the Bay shoreline and the local environment of Fishing Creek, and we want to make sure we use that to our students’ advantage as frequently as possible,” Shisler said in an e-mail.

“It’s really hitting from every angle from the student who helps recycle at lunch to the student who’s a scout and helps build a whole nature trail,” Daubon said of the Green School program. “It’s pretty neat, the energy out there. The kids love it.”

Plum Point Middle School’s green school coordinator, teacher Lisa Spencer, said in addition to a “very active” recycling program, bluebird box construction and a native garden, the school recently had a week-long “Pledge to Conserve Natural Resources,” signed by students and staff members.

She said the school’s staff has been keeping track of the school’s energy use since 2008, and it has gone down 18 percent since then.

Spencer said the students use post-lunch “flex time” to collect the school’s recycling bins, which she said “are constantly full.”

“The young people are almost more into the green movement than adults,” Spencer said. “They almost automatically throw things in the recycling bin.”

Joe Galarza, Calvert Country School teacher and interim green school coordinator, said his school especially has emphasized water conservation by placing signs over sinks and water fountains.

He said habits like recycling have become second nature to the majority of the special education school’s students.

“They see it as just part of their day — part of the jobs that they do,” he said.

Galarza said the school also conserves energy by not activating the light switches above classroom SMART Boards.

Patuxent High School science teacher Graham Coombs said the school’s environmental science students are responsible for “re-beautifying the school” by removing non-native plants and planting native ones in their place.

Daubon explained that local animals, like different types of butterflies and birds, rely on these native plants as a food source.

Coombs said turning off classroom lights and electronic devices also is stressed to staff.

“As technology grows, unfortunately, electrical consumption grows,” Coombs said.

He said that although most Patuxent High green efforts are the work of environmental science students, their peers respect their efforts.

“Most students, even if they don’t directly participate, at least seem to appreciate the aesthetics of it,” he said.

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