Learning how earthworms improve the soil. Writing letters to elected officials about cleaning up trash. Testing water quality. Planting native trees. Labeling storm drains.
These are a few of the ways students in Maryland’s designated “green schools” are learning about – and affecting – the environment.
Currently, 27% of the state’s schools carry the green school certification. A bill before the General Assembly would seek to increase that number to 50%.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Wednesday heard from witnesses supporting SB662, sponsored by Senate President Mike Miller, Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, who chairs the committee, and Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s.
It was a snowy day that closed schools, enabling Susan Collard, an 11th grader at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, to travel to Annapolis to testify without missing classes. She is the daughter of Laura Johnson Collard, executive director of the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE).
The budding environmentalist has attended green schools throughout elementary, middle and high school.
“They’ve helped me become a more environmentally conscious person,” she told lawmakers.
She recalled helping plant a garden in elementary school, attending an environmental Youth Summit, and participating in her high school Green Club, which led a push for the school to replace old-style light bulbs with lower-energy LED bulbs.
Leading by example
In introducing the bill, Miller said students are leading by example. He used to leave lights on around the house, he said. “I’m going back and turning them off. I’m making sure I don’t run the water too long. It’s because of this… These students can teach adults.”
The bill requires the governor to provide funds for the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) for five years, increasing the amount from $300,000 in fiscal year 2021 to $336,000 in fiscal year 2025. The bill also calls for an annual evaluation of the impact of the funding. It’s cross-filed with HB1366, with Del. Alice Cain, D-Anne Arundel, as the lead sponsor.
The funds are to be used for professional development, student transportation, school projects, green schools training, and events under the MAEOE umbrella. It would also cover the creation of an online application form for schools to apply for funding under the bill.
MAEOE, which was launched in 1999, has operated as a nonprofit organization funded by grants and in-kind donations.
Required environmental education
Under current law, each local school system in Maryland is required to incorporate environmental education into the curriculum at every level, “to preserve and protect the unique natural resources of Maryland, particularly those of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed,” according to the bill text.
Currently there are 621 green schools and 42 green centers in the MAEOE program, encompassing more than 200,000 students, teachers and parents.
MAEOE holds two annual events: a three-day conference for environmental educators and the Maryland Green Schools Youth Summit.
The program is strongest in central Maryland. In Prince George’s County, 52 % of the schools are certified as green. Organizers would like to expand it to more schools in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.
“There are a lot of headlines about the state of our waterways and what needs to be done there,” said Kevin Maxwell, former chief of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel County public schools and a member of the MAEOE board of directors. “It’s important that we expand this work, that we create children in our schools who will be good stewards of our environment.”
James Roberson, who works at the Schmidt Outdoor Education Center in Brandywine, one of Maryland’s 42 certified green centers, said working on environmental projects gives students a sense of pride and purpose.
“It’s empowered those students. They’re taking ownership,” Roberson said.