Students at J.C. Parks Elementary School care about the environment. From recognizing December as “No Straw December,” to raising flower beds to grow vegetables for donation to local food banks, students on the school’s Green Team are doing their part, one project at a time. One of their main projects of significance is the work going on at the school to help improve watershed areas. These projects range from the planting of nearly 4,000 native plants on school grounds that help clean rain water, to the use of an outdoor foundation built from a recycled tire and powered by the sun.

For their efforts in these projects, and several more that are planned for this school year, Parks was honored Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through its Ocean Guardian School program. This is the second year the school has earned the designation from NOAA. To receive recognition through this program, schools must apply and submit with their application a community-based project. The program provides Ocean Guardian schools with grant funds to support conservation projects.

This is Parks’ third year of participation in the program, but the second year in a row it received the NOAA recognition. Deanna Wheeler, science teacher at Parks, oversees the school’s participation and the student-run Green Team. The Green Team includes nearly 50 students and meets regularly to help plan projects to help the environment.

In addition to providing native plants and use of a solar fountain, Green Team members have worked on a watershed wheel to help clean rain water, recycled milk cartons, used a hydration system to save more than 26,000 one-time use water bottles and learned about watersheds through field trips to areas such as Mallows Bay and Chapman’s Landing State Park. Parks third grader Christian Howard is a Green Team member and said he joined the group to learn more about helping nature.

“I like helping nature… saving the world. I like having a better place to live. If we take care of our Earth, our animals and plants can stay alive longer,” Howard said. His classmate, third grader Brianna Jacks, joined the club for the same reasons. “I love being in the Ocean Guardian club. I like being with my friends of course, but protecting birds and our Earth is fun. We also have a turtle named Squirtle. Our turtle is my favorite thing about the club,” Jacks said.

During the recognition ceremony, Parks Green Team members Ahman Johnson, Jessica Forbes, Renata Ashton and Shyla Lancaster led a demonstration of how water collected in local watersheds leads to the ocean. The students also talked about their conservation efforts, and the research they have conducted at Mallows Bay and other local parks.

According to Wheeler, grant funds earned through NOAA’s Ocean Guardian program help fund field trips to local watersheds, the school’s wetlands day event, buy native plants for the outdoor classroom and even go toward the beautification of the school building itself. Last year with the help of local artist Vicki Marckel, who also is a teacher at Henry E. Lackey High School, students on the Green Team helped to paint a mural on the front of the school.

“This year’s grant funds will help with part two of the mural; students will put part two up this year,” Wheeler said. Through a partnership with the Indian Head Naval Base, plans for the installation of an augmented reality sandbox are underway. This type of sandbox provides students with three-dimensional, hands-on learning experiences through use of sand and technology. Users mold the sand by hand and then use technology to apply elevation color maps, topography guides and water simulations to study geographical areas.

Samuel Orlando is a member of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuary and presented Wheeler and the Parks Green Team with the second official Ocean Guardian school banner at the ceremony. He said he is constantly impressed with conservation efforts led by Parks students. “You all are a terrific group of kids. I look forward to coming here and I am just blown away by what you all are doing. When I hear the enthusiasm of students, I know the world is changing,” Orlando said.

Ocean Guardian grant funding is provided annually to schools once they meet goals outlined in community service projects identified by the school. North Point High School also is recognized by NOAA as an Ocean Guardian school.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/EditorEditor-in-Chief

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...