Severna Park school showcases environmental efforts

State and federal officials visited Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park this week to review the school's efforts to teach students about the environment — and reduce its own environmental impact.

Folger McKinsey was recognized as a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education in 2012. The award is given to schools working to reduce their environmental impact and provide effective environmental education for students.

The visit, part of the Department of Education's annual nationwide tour of current and former Green Ribbon Schools, included officials from the education department, the state Board of Education and the Maryland House of Delegates.

Students embraced the opportunity to show their environmental prowess; the school's Outdoor Classroom Club acted out each step in the water cycle.

"The students love it," said Assistant Principal Beth Burke. "They love showing off what they know."

Principal Sue Bachmann showed visitors several projects students have been working on. Each grade is assigned an environmental topic, and students work on projects related to that topic throughout the year.

Students in first grade, for example, have planted a butterfly garden in the school's courtyard and are using it to learn about butterfly species. Second- and third-graders are working on recycling and composting projects.

Fourth-graders are focusing on plant identification, using what has been planted in the courtyard. They also are designing games and designed to teach younger students about plants. In fourth-grade teacher Kristin Chappell's class, children use iPads to learn about local butterfly species.

Kindergarten students learn when they should reduce, reuse or recycle certain types of waste.

Madhu Sidhu, a member of the Maryland State Board of Education, said she enjoyed seeing students learning about environmental issues at a young age.

"The kids are really thinking critically," Sidhu said. "Even the little ones."

Bachmann said the school's focus is part of an effort to give children an appreciation for the environment that they can carry into adulthood.

"If it's ingrained at a young age, hopefully it will last a lifetime," she said.

Folger McKinsey was also recognized for reducing its environmental impact. The school has saved paper by providing textbooks in digital formats and encouraging students to write on their desks using dry-erase markers.

Andrea Falken, director of the Green Ribbon Schools program, said any effort schools can make to save on materials ultimately benefits students.

"Every bit they save on utilities can be used in the classroom," she said.

State and federal officials also planned to visit other former Green Ribbon Schools, including Dunloggin Middle School in Ellicott City and Francis Scott Key Middle School in Silver Spring.

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