South River study puts Annapolis students in a learning environment

Thirty-five Annapolis students spent their Tuesday examining river critters in a net, measuring water clarity and planting more than 100 trees and shrubs.

The day of hands-on outdoor activities capped The Water Project, an initiative led by a young scientist that brought two schools together.

Caroline Rodriguez has spent the past several months working as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps intern with the South River Federation, a nonprofit focused on protecting and advocating for the South River near Annapolis.

A graduate of Duke University with a degree in environmental and earth science, Rodriguez researches water quality for the federation. But she also wanted to reach out and share that science with the public.

Rodriguez, who said she has some Cuban heritage, decided to bring lessons about how to care for the environment to Hispanic children at Mills-Parole Elementary School in Annapolis.

"It's a group I can connect with because of my heritage," she said.

Rodriguez teamed up with teachers Kelly Finnegan and Billy Spalding from St. Anne's School of Annapolis, a private Episcopal school, to teach after-school lessons to second-graders at Mills-Parole. They taught mainly in English, using Spanish as needed to help children understand concepts such as the water cycle and polluted stormwater runoff.

After several weeks in the classroom, the Mills-Parole children were joined by first-graders from St. Anne's for a day of hands-on projects at Oak Grove Marina in Edgewater, where the South River Federation is based.

Rodriguez said the children were excited to put their new environmental knowledge into practice.

"It was really cool to see that they learned something," Rodriguez said. "Working with such a young age group, there's always a chance they'll repeat what you say and forget it."

Rodriguez said the children's favorite parts were a scavenger hunt around the marina and joining Riverkeeper Diana Muller on a boat on the river.

"They all had a blast, and they were asking if they could come back," Rodriguez said.

Muller, who also is the South River Federation's director of research, said she was pleased the marina was able to host the event. The schools are making plans to repeat the event next year.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, will be with the federation through August and then will look for another job — perhaps in Latin America — before eventually returning to school for a master's degree.

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps provides a stipend for volunteers to work with organizations and government agencies for a year to help with environmental projects while gaining experience. The CCC is sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the state government and Constellation Energy, and is now in its fourth year.

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