This spring, students from Dunloggin Middle School plan to release 7,000 oysters into the Chesapeake Bay as part of the school's ongoing project to help improve the health of the bay.
That amount more than doubles the number of oysters students have raised and released into the bay over the past two years as an aid to filtering bay nutrients and students are more than happy to show off the oysters they're raising in a Dunloggin classroom.
On Wednesday, Dunloggin's oyster gardening club students had an opportunity to showcase their project to a group of federal and state education officials touring the school through the U.S. Department of Education's second annual Green Strides Best Practices Tour of Green Ribbon Schools around the country.
Dunloggin was one of three Maryland schools visited by officials, the group also toured Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park and Francis Scott Key Middle School in Silver Spring. The visits included school tours and conversations regarding environmental education and project-based learning programs with staff and students.
At Dunloggin, students led tours of the school's stream restoration and wetlands construction project before students involved in the oyster project explained their work to the crowd of visitors, which included State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery, officials from the U.S. Department of Education, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Superintendent Renee Foose.
"When we talk about real world, experiential learning, that embodies it," Dunloggin Principal Jeffrey Fink said of the student's work on envrionmental projects. "They're getting into it and actually doing it. They're not just seeing it on a projector or in a video."
Foose described Dunloggin as a learning lab that has students learning about sustainability and the environmental impact of every decision they make, particularly praising the students' work on the oyster project.
"Students are truly making a positive impact on something that's local and near and dear to all Marylanders, the Chesapeake Bay," she said.
Dunloggin is a national Green Ribbon School, which Foose called a testament to the staff and students at the Columbia middle school.
"For the U.S. Department of Education and the state department [of education] to recognize the good work we're doing here, I think its fantastic," she said.
The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools and District Sustainability Awardees are recognized for reducing their enviornmental impact, including energy use, waste and water; creating healthy learning enviornments and fostering wellness practices; and providing effective environmental education that prepares students to succeed in the 21st century, according to an agency news release.
In between school visits, the Robinson Nature Center hosted an hour-long listening session where education, environment and planning officials, including Foose, spoke on the importance of building and operating sustainable schools and what health practices schools are implementing to boost student achievement.
Foose highlighted the school system's commitment to following LEED certification practices in all renovation and new building projects, health programs for staff and students, such as the telehealth program in some elementary schools unveiled last month, and the plans for a 'net-zero energy' Wilde Lake Middle School, meaning that all energy consumed by the school is produced by natural resources.
"It will be a learning lab, so that students will actively be learning about the LEED certification and environmental sustainability throughout the course of their entire academic program," Foose said of the new school.