Mid-Shore Teachers Complete Environmental Literacy Training with Pickering Creek

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For nine weeks, a cohort of mid-shore teachers gathered with staff of Pickering Creek Audubon Center on Wednesday evenings and two Saturdays to immerse themselves in Maryland’s Environmental Literacy (E-Lit) Standards. Established in 2011, Maryland’s Environmental Literacy Standards require all students to participate in multi-disciplinary environmental programs to build students’ understanding of the inextricable links between humans and the natural world. Hailing from Talbot, Kent and Wicomico counties, the eight teachers had experience in a range of grade levels and content disciplines.

Lynn Alemon, a 4th grade teacher at Easton Elementary School releases a newly banded thrush.

Focusing on one standard each week, the teachers were invited to explore environmental concepts by investigating Pickering Creek’s forest, meadow and wetland habitats, modeling activities, and engaging in discussions. These programs were led by Pickering Creek’s knowledgeable staff, which works with Eastern Shore school systems to help them meet Maryland’s Environmental Literacy Standards.  One Wednesday evening, teachers immersed themselves in a restored freshwater wetland by pulling on chest waders and seining in the waters before considering how human activities influence the availability of habitats. Another week teachers canoed on Pickering Creek, taking water quality samples while discussing the influence of the environment on human health. Before colder days set in, the group spent an evening sweeping butterfly nets through the meadows and looking for monarch butterflies and other insects while considering limiting factors on populations, communities and ecosystems.

“This reminds us that we need to be outside, and to be mindful of that with our students,” remarked Charlotte Compton, a first grade teacher at Easton Elementary School. “They need it too.”

Supported through a Chesapeake Bay Trust mini-grant, teachers had an opportunity to earn up to two continuing education credits if they attended both the nine weekday evening sessions as well as two Saturday field trips. On a Saturday in late September, the teachers traveled to Washington College’s Chester River Field Research Station, where they shadowed field ecologist, Maren Gimple, and learned about banding of migratory birds. Teachers watched as Gimple deftly removed Common Yellowthroats, Ovenbirds and other migratory birds from the station’s mist nets, took measurements of each bird, and attached a small metal bracelet to each bird’s leg. The teachers learned how data collected at the station in Chestertown is used to enhance our understanding of spring and fall seasonal bird migration along the Atlantic Flyway.

Pictured L-R (Top row): Lynn Alemon (Easton Elementary), Hayley Hartman (Pickering Creek), Danielle Devonport (Pickering Creek), Devin Herlihy (Pickering Creek), Donna Simmons (Kent School), Katelin Cep (Chapel District Elementary), Kathy Kelly (Chapel District Elementary), Jaime Bunting (Pickering Creek); (Bottom row) Jaime Eakin (Wicomico Middle), Charlotte Compton (Easton Elementary), Jeff Eutsler (White Marsh Elementary). Not pictured: Julia Berg (Bennet Middle).

In October, teachers spent a Saturday at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge where they heard from Refuge Wildlife Biologist Matt Whitbeck and Director of Science at the Nature Conservancy MD-DC, Dr. Arian Sutton-Grier, to learn about climate change, sea level rise, and the importance of protecting salt marsh habitats for wildlife and preserving the habitat’s ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. Julia Berg, a Social Studies teacher from James Bennett Middle School in Salisbury reflected, “I was fascinated to learn about blue carbon and the importance of wetlands in mitigating the effects of climate change. The E-Lit Camp has been really eye-opening and is giving me lots of ideas for working with the science teachers in my school.”

In November it was time for the teachers to synthesize what they had learned and develop activities and lessons that incorporate Environmental Literacy Standards. Jeff Eustler, a Physical Education teacher at White Marsh Elementary shared his idea of creating a fast-moving “Environmental Helpers” game during gym class that can emphasize the influence of individual and group actions on the environment. Lynn Aleman, a 4th grade Language Arts teacher at Easton Elementary School thought about how to enhance a current shark-focused reading project to include her students researching cultural and economic influences on the sharks’ populations and habitat. “I am excited to share these lessons and what I have learned with my students, in an effort to better engage them in science content during my reading block,” remarked Aleman.

Environmental literacy in the real world does not exist exclusively in the sciences; rather, it is woven throughout the many content disciplines taught in school and in all areas of our lives. But beyond the academics, the experiential aspect was what stuck for teachers. Jamie Eakin, a 6th grade science teacher from Wicomico Middle School summed it up: “E-Lit Camp is like teaching therapy for me. I get to be a student and feel the joy of learning again.”

Contact: Mary Helen Gillen, National Audubon Society, mgillen@audubon.org, 410-822-4903

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