The St. Mary's County commissioners indicated this week that they will approve funds to buy supplies and materials for a new high school environmental education class.
The class is intended to put a different--and some say more relevant--spin on the traditional agriculture curriculum, which some say teaches students to "put the seed in the ground and watch it grow."
The commissioners expect to approve spending $3,900 in federal supplementary funds after the required public comment period is completed in a couple of weeks. The funds were disbursed to the county through the Maryland Department of Education.
"Maybe we can get modern land-use ideas out of this program," said County Commissioner Joseph F. Anderson (D-Drayden), vice president of the board, during a hearing Tuesday that drew no public comment.
County agriculture, aquaculture and forestry leaders are hoping the class will help develop a new generation of young people who will be knowledgeable about St. Mary's lands and waters and who may become the farmers and environmental experts of the future.
The senior-level class at the Leonardtown Technical Center, funded with a $16,000 federal grant, started this fall with about 20 students. But county and school officials said they expect a growing enrollment later, based on the experience with an existing middle school environmental class. That class enrolled 400 students last year and about 500 signed up to take it this year.
"Many of the same things that students learned about environmental education are agriculture-based," said Donna Sasscer, an agriculture and seafood development expert with the St. Mary's County Department of Economic and Community Development.
"We're very excited about it. The agriculture commission sponsored [the original class grant], and they really do want people who want to go into the environmental field to have some practical knowledge of their environment," Sasscer said.
Sasscer worked with members of a citizens advisory board and the Agriculture, Seafood and Forestry Commission, who had suggested a senior-level class that incorporated forestry management, soil conservation and aquaculture.
The supplementary funds will pay for classroom microscopes, wading boots, aquaculture tanks, forestry devices and other supplies and materials for the new class, Sasscer said.
"If you're gonna have farms, you gotta have young farmers," said Richard Pelz, an oyster farmer in Ridge, who is also vice chairman of the county's Agriculture, Seafood and Forestry Commission, a board that advises the county commissioners.
The class "is very, very relevant to what's going on in St. Mary's County," Pelz said.
In St. Mary's agriculture, which has become secondary in the local economy to defense spending, developing a source for future farmers, aquaculturists and environmental scientists is important, Pelz said.
The county's agricultural education program has been changing since it moved several years ago from Chopticon High School to the Technical Center. The classes have opened to include other disciplines, including environmental principles, Pelz said.
The two existing classes for middle and high school students could lead to more courses and a technical degree on the environment at the Community College of St. Mary's, said Pelz, who is planning to start a two-year apprenticeship at his oyster farm in Ridge for trainees in shellfish growing.