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Rachel Carson Day Educates Students About Environmenal Issues

"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder...he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." - Rachel Carson

The Rachel Carson Elementary School PTA and the Kentlands Go Green Group, part of the Kentlands Community Foundation, kicked off the First Annual Rachel Carson Day on the school's blacktop on May 27.

During recess hours, students from grades K through 5 had the opportunity to visit five different hands-on educational exhibits focusing on environmental awareness.

The Kentlands Community Gardens group, Whole Foods, Muddy Branch Alliance, Audubon Naturalist Society and Rachel Carson Council each sponsored an activity tent.

"The event is really an effort to acknowledge Rachel Carson's birthday in our community," said Jennifer Quinn, one of the Founders of the Go Green Group and principal organizers of Rachel Carson Day. "We are lucky to have a school named Rachel Carson here in Kentlands. We wanted to celebrate the school's namesake, and it's great to have the kids exposed to fun learning opportunities about the natural environment."

"The PTA let us allocate PTA funds toward the event," said Carrie Dietz, Director of the Kentlands Community Foundation. "The Go Green Group got involved, and it snowballed from there. It would be wonderful to see this event grow next year."

Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin, another Founder of the Go Green Group and event organizer, scouted out the participating organizations.

"Jenn [Quinn] and I talked about the best ways to engage the kids. I approached the different participants, and no one said no," she said. 'The Watershed Group has sprouted up in the last few months in our area. I have taken my kids on nature walks organized by the Audubon Naturalist Society, Whole Foods is right here in Kentlands, and the Kentlands Community Gardens group conveniently has a clause in its bylaws to provide outreach to kids. Lastly, you can't have Rachel Carson Day without the Council."

Stressing the importance of local community involvement, Stavitsky-Zeineddin also commented on how many of the organizers also serve on the Rachel Carson Elementary School PTA and have a personal stake in the event.

Students had the opportunity to learn about gardening, composting, the importance of watersheds, birds and their nesting habits and Rachel Carson's work against the use of pesticides.

Bonnie Fritz of the Kentlands Community Gardens Group taught students about the difference between fruits and vegetables, photosynthesis and the importance of gardens. After a brief presentation, students repotted a tomato plant and planted a seed.

"They were well-versed in photosynthesis already, which is great!" she said.

Representing Whole Foods, Candace Child, Demo Specialist, and Claire Furman, Marketing Specialist, led students through a composting activity involving everyday household waste, such as pita bread, apple cores, potato peels, lettuce, egg shells and newspaper. Afterward, students mixed up an edible compost comprised of Newman's Own cookie bits, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, raisins and chia pudding.

"We wanted the kids to understand that nature's own way of recycling is composting," Child said.

After giving a brief presentation on how runoff from the school's own playground flows into the Muddy Branch, which in turn flows into the Potomac, which is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Kathy Howland of the Muddy Branch Alliance, directed students to a table with a scale model of a semi-rural landscape. Her colleague Jemie Howland probed students on the effects of pollution in this kind of zone. The model included barns, livestock, streams flowing through rolling hills, which were sparsely populated by construction sites, a factory and paved roadways.

"What happens when pollution runs into water?" she asked, suggesting that planting trees might be one way to offset excess runoff from pavement.

On cue, students began calling up examples of measures we can take to preserve the environment and clean water. They mentioned recycling, biking, scooping up dog poop, and avoiding the use of pesticides on lawns.

Mary McLean and Jordan Polk of the Audubon Naturalist Society, assisted by Jennifer Whelan, Guidance Counselor helped students make bird nests out of netted nesting bags, dried leaves and pineneedles to celebrate nesting season. Among the birds featured in their exhibit were the American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Cardinal, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove and a taxidermied eagle.

"We want to empower students the way Rachel Carson empowered people," said Dr. Diana Post of the Rachel Carson Council, which had organized a display of Rachel Carson artifacts, books and a lucky ladybug toss.

"Carson called insects 'this vital force.' She highlighted their importance in our ecosystem because they provide pest control, clean air, food and water for us," continued Dr. Post.

Assisted by Heyha Khenissi and Thelda McMillan, Post encouraged students to read about the effects of 2,4-D, an herbicide used to kill clover, dandelions and other lawn weeds. According to research by event organizers and participants, the adverse effects of this herbicide include: loss of balance, seizures, breathing problems, muscle stiffness, vomiting and diarrhea in pets. Herbicides are also harmful to frogs, bats and honey bees, causing physical deformities, fungal infections and Colony Collapse Disorder, respectively. 

The elementary school is relatively large at about 900 students. Recess runs from 10:45 a.m. until 1:45 p.m. Organizing the event turned out to be a challenge.

"We have around 900 students, and there are six half-hour recess periods back to back. Each student gets a 10-minute session at one of the exhibits. Next year, we would like to be able to allow them to see more exhibits," said Quinn, also a PTA member who organizes various other school events throughout the academic year.

Although it was not mandatory for students to attend Rachel Carson Day activities, students came in bounds.

"We have kids asking if they could do it again tomorrow and next week," Dietz said.

Paul Hlavinka May 30, 2011 at 03:13 PM
It was great to be part of this event. These kids really do get it. This speaks well of the teachers and parents support. For those interested in getting involved locally within our own watershed, please do track up on our Facebook page "http://www.facebook.com/pages/Muddy-Branch-Alliance/134042406666556". We have a rain barrel event coming up on June 28, a birding and trail cleanup on June 12, kayaking in August. All are welcome. Paul Hlavinka, Board President Muddy Branch Alliance

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