On Halloween morning, Dunloggin Middle School in Ellicott City received a treat for all the environmental improvements that students and faculty have accomplished in recent years.
Gov. Martin O'Malley visited the school in recognition of its dedication to the environment, as shown through projects including a stream restoration/wetland construction project and an oyster gardening group.
"It's so overwhelming," said Pam Kidwell, who along with fellow teacher Dan Blue, started working on the stream restoration project eight years ago in 2005. "It's great for the kids to be featured. We guide them. They do the work."
Eighth-graders Katie Aubin, 13, Dominique Johnson, 13 and Melissa Lund, 13, led the governor and a slew of guests — including County Executive Ken Ulman and state senators, delegates, school board members and County Council representatives — through the restored stream bed, providing commentary on all the school had done to the stream and how it had improved.
"He asked a lot of good questions and acted like he cared," Melissa said of O'Malley after the tour. "I can't believe I was so scared about it."
O'Malley praised the students for keeping their stream clean, then headed inside to learn about the school's oyster gardening club. Students Claudia Pilcher, 13 and Heidi Li, 12, proudly showed off the school's young oysters. When O'Malley asked if he could test the water's ph-level, they handed him the safety goggles and had him counting the drops.
"I thought it was so amazing being able to talk with the governor and share my experiences," Claudia said.
Heidi agreed. "I thought it would be all tense and everything, but he's a nice guy and very laid back," she said.
As he walked through the halls, O'Malley greeted staff members and students. He waved to a physical education class outside and joined another playing football.
"He was like one of the kids," said Kidwell. "He was so into it."
Some 590 students attend Dunloggin Middle School, according to principal Jeffrey Link. A former science teacher, Link was impressed with Dunloggin's achievements when he started at the school in June.
"They've done an incredible job here. It left me speechless," Link said. "They've been working on this forever. I take no credit for this. It was truthfully ahead of its time."
The school has been used as a model for other schools, according to Tiffany Granberg, educator with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
"It is great for teachers to see," Granberg said of the stream bed and the school's other environmental projects. "Teachers may have ideas, and here they are able to ...see success."
Kidwell and Blue said that each year, they try to take on a new project. Last month, they brought goats to the school to eat invasive species. Next year, they are planning to enter into a striped bass program with the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
"This all started with stream cleaning," Kidwell said. "Each year it evolves."
"This is great. I love what you guys are doing," O'Malley said. "We want people to take charge of the watershed in their areas. Imagine if every school did what you did. Keep up the good work."
Dominique Johnson hopes to come back after she leaves Dunloggin to see how the stream bed evolves.
"It will be nice to come back here years from now to see how much progress has been made," Johnson said. "I think that would be really cool."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun