“I’m proud of you that you can name all the states in our watershed and not miss any,” said longtime TEAM DNR volunteer Penny Vahsen to fourth-graders at West Annapolis Elementary School. “Some students say California is part of our watershed.”
Not Candice Gaylon’s class this past school year. They’re up on buffers, erosion and water pollution.
Volunteers from TEAM DNR — Teaching Environmental Awareness in Maryland — spread the word about the watershed, horseshoe crabs, oyster reefs, the culture and history of watermen. They also do a hands-on stream program. Mostly, they visit classrooms of third- through eighth-graders. For free. This summer, they’ll visit camps and book schools for the fall.
Vahsen, who taught seventh-grade science wherever her husband’s naval career led them, helped develop DNR’s TEAM program. She commands the students’ attention. Where on this map is your closest river? Annapolis? The origin of the Chesapeake watershed?
In-classroom programs like this range from 45 to 90 minutes; the hands-on stream program takes two hours.
Vahsen swooshes her hand over a map of the entire Chesapeake watershed.
“A lot of people are involved,” she says. “Do we have to educate them, too?”
The children respond with a resounding “yes.”
“So we have to educate them, too, because they may not know that what they do affects the Bay. Why do we care about the Bay? What good is it?”
The kids know: Oysters. Rockfish. We eat the seafood. It dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. We sail on it.
About half have fished in the Bay.
To teach how this habitat depends on clean water, Vahsen asks each to be a water drop. At a small stream they meet a trout, a spotted salamander, a wood frog, a black rat snake. The drop travels to a farm field where there’s a pond with mallards and Canada geese. Then to a wetland with blue heron, a redhead duck and a terrapin. All those creatures need clean water.
That’s when new TEAM volunteer Mia Russell, who used to teach elementary school, steps up with a large clear plastic jar of tap water.
Russell got involved with TEAM DNR to help people “understand the role the Chesapeake Bay plays.”
Each student has a small canister filled with goop that represents pollution — beach party leftovers, spilled motor oil, lawn chemicals and power plant pollution. One by one they dump it in the water.
Would the kids swim in it? Boat in it? Fish in it? Early on, the answers are mostly yes, but as the water becomes murkier, the children shake their heads.
“That looks like Bay water,” Galyon says, of the murky mess in the plastic jar, after the last addition.
How to protect and conserve water?
These kids have ideas: “Don’t use pesticides or weed killers.”
“Not flush the toilet as much.”
“Turn off electric things.”
“Use rain barrels.”
“Walk more. Don’t use the car as much.”
These fourth graders are Bay-wise, and this summer they’ve taken their wisdom home to parents and siblings and will make it part of their family life.
To join the August 2 and 9 TEAM DNR training class at Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center, contact DNR’s Amy Henry: 410-260-8828; firstname.lastname@example.org. After training, you will be paired with experienced volunteers, teaching at least 12 hours a year. http://dnr.maryland.gov/education/teamdnr/voltraining