They've grown up during an era of unprecedented interest in the environment, and on Oct. 7, students from Pot Spring Elementary School and Dulaney High School turned their knowledge, and public service intentions, into action.
Upperclassmen in John Enders' horticulture class at Dulaney joined first- and third-graders from Pot Spring to plant more than 30 trees on the fringe of a forested area between the two schools.
Along with other recently planted trees and the long grasses that surround them, the new trees will act as a buffer for a stream that runs through the woods behind Pot Spring. Many of the trees were planted during earlier Earth Day ceremonies.
Last week's planting continues the work of the Baltimore County Public Schools' Reforestation Project. For seven years, more than 5,000 trees have been planted throughout many sections of Baltimore County.
During the current academic year, 650 to 700 trees will take root.
"We wanted a program where we could get our students outdoors," said Pat Ghingher, an outdoor science teacher and the naturalist team leader from the school system. "Environmental literacy is a priority for the (system's) Office of Science, and we wanted to teach it in the classroom and then apply it to a real-life situation."
The planting program draws financial support from several sources, including grants from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources' Forestry Service.
Most of the trees are donated by the Baltimore County Forestry Board. Gingher also credits other community organizations, including Blue Water Baltimore, Back River Restoration and the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, for buying trees and helping at some of the planting sites.
Pot Spring Elementary is a designated Green School, and is a perfect match for the program, according to school officials.
"We wanted to teach the kids to take care of their environment," said Stephanie Barnes, assistant principal of the Timonium school. "These types of activities support our designation as a Green School. The teachers try to infuse these lessons into our curriculum on a daily basis.
"The kids love being outside and doing this kind of activity, and we hope that it carries over to their homes," Barnes said. "And we even get a lot of the neighbors who live nearby to help with the upkeep and the watering of this area."
All of Pot Spring's classes wanted to participate in Friday's planting, but that would have been logistically impossible. A lottery was held, and one class each from the first grade and third grade were chosen. Each class has 20 students.
"The staff is very energetic about doing environmental activities with their students," Barnes said. "They are always doing things to promote the environment."
Justin Hennaut's third-grade class was the first to walk through the woods to the clearing where the planting would be done.
"The county has worked to incorporate a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) unit into every grade level," Hennaut said. "Our unit is about the Chesapeake Bay, so they are learning about pollution, erosion and water runoff. We talk about how they can prevent trees from being washed away, and how the runoff can be used to water the trees."
Hennaut also guided a class discussion on tools for planting and the effect of soil on the tree.
"We talked about how the tree is going to change and grow through the seasons," said Hennaut, now in his third year at Pot Spring. "They'll take ownership of their tree, and come back and check on it again. They don't know anything different than to be green and aware."
One of Hennaut's students, eight-year old Samantha White, couldn't have been happier to be outside on the sunny, 75-degree morning.
"I was pretty excited because I like giving to the environment," White said as she put on her work gloves. "I really want to bring my parents and my friends here to show them what we did when I was in third grade."
Before the digging and planting started, the third-graders were joined by Jenna Loomis' first-grade class. The class had already "adopted" one of the trees that would be planted.
"They're going to keep a journal about that tree throughout the entire year, and look at the differences in the tree through the various seasons," said Loomis, now in her fourth year at Pot Spring. "This afternoon, they're going to our computer lab to create a digital diary, and they'll interview each other about the trees that they planted."
While the Pot Spring students knew plenty about the environment, they needed older counterparts to help them plant the trees. Two younger students were paired with two Dulaney counterparts.
"Our teacher asked us if we wanted to plant trees with the elementary kids," said Lauren Daugherty, a 17-year old senior horticulture student at Dulaney. "We've learned a lot about plants and the way they work, what kinds of roots and leaves the trees have, and how to plant."
After the elementary students carried the trees from the grass into an open field, the high schoolers dug up the soil.
"When I was in elementary school, we learned a lot about the environment and global warming," said 17-year-old senior Tyler Marvel, another Dulaney horticulture student. "I definitely would've liked to have (planted trees) then."
"It's not just the act of planting a tree," said Gingher, who was a biology teacher at Towson High before she transferred to the school system's Office of Science. "You've got to understand why you're doing it, and what value it has to you and to the public at-large."
The Dulaney students have already learned the value of forested areas, and last week they got a chance to influence the younger generation.
"The kids have the knowledge on how to plant trees, and the value of having a buffer around the stream," said Enders, in his 18th year at Dulaney. "It's hands-on experience for our kids, because they have to explain to the (younger) kids what to do. It's a neat community collaboration."