It was an opportunity no kid could pass up: a rare permission to spray-paint school property — with grown-ups watching, no less.
Students at Bryant Woods Elementary weren't creating graffiti. Instead, they stenciled "DON'T DUMP, CHESAPEAKE BAY DRAINAGE" in green lettering on a white background atop a storm drain — part of the school's efforts to educate Howard County residents about ways to protect the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary.
Bryant Woods' entire student body, as well as teachers, administrators and guests, gathered at one of the schools concrete-and-metal drains last week and cheered as a group of fifth-graders kicked off the Columbia school's Storm Drain Stenciling Project.
Organized by the Bryant Woods Green School Committee — a group formed to help gain Green School status for environmental awareness — the storm drain project will take a while, as students stencil some 60 drains in the Wilde Lake community.
The effort comes as many individuals, organizations and political leaders statewide are emphasizing the need to safeguard the bay. The school received a grant from the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Trust for the project.
At the gathering Monday, students were eager to embrace their role in raising public awareness.
"People were dumping into storm drains and it was affecting the bay, so we wanted to stencil it so people wouldn't," said Kelsi Dickinson, a fifth-grader taking part in the project.
School resource teacher Matthew Henry said fifth-grade students will start with the 10 drains at Bryant Woods. Then it's on to two dozen more drains in the immediate area. After that, they'll branch out to neighboring areas, ensuring that their message blends in with other local signage.
With much of the 355-member student body before him, Henry explained that although Howard County was quite far from the Chesapeake Bay, much of the area's water eventually makes its way there.
"These drains around your community all drain into Wilde Lake, and then they go underground," said Henry, and the water eventually finds its way to the Chesapeake.
The idea for the project began about four years ago when school administrators noticed Henry, then a fourth-grade teacher at Bryant Woods, encouraging students to clean up around school grounds.
He was named to chair the school's Green Committee and has organized student efforts — including having fifth-graders speak to fellow students about the Chesapeake Bay and the long-term effects of pollution. Henry said he and members of the Green School Committee are "teaching from a grass-roots perspective, from the preschoolers to the fifth-graders, why it's important not to litter, not throw your trash on the ground, to recycle and the importance of the watershed, which is here in Maryland and all the way up to New York."
Bryant Woods has yet to obtain Green School status, but its work has made students mindful of the importance of being environmentally conscious. Henry said the students have committed to work during recess and lunchtime to stencil the storm drains at the school.
Among the community leaders who attended the kickoff event was Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who told the students their efforts are important not only to the local jurisdiction and the state but to "the entire planet, because all bodies of water are connected."
"My generation has not done as good a job as we needed to do on protecting these waters," said Bobo, a Democrat who previously served as Howard County executive. "We are not only proud of you, but we are so thankful to you that you are working so hard and care so much about this."
Bryant Woods fifth-grader Kyra Stewart said it takes many people to maintain the Chesapeake Bay, "but it starts with just one person. I liked that the fact that we did it, not just all the adults."