Students in Roy Pool's environmental science course at North Harford High School use their hip boots as much as their textbooks.
The students spend much of the class time in the field, planting trees, testing the quality of water in Deer Creek and restoring wetlands along Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
Pool, who has been teaching the class for 18 years, says his goal is to get students up close to nature to help them develop a keen awareness of environmental issues.
"This is the most important course they'll ever take," the 44-year-old Pylesville resident says. "I expect them to be the saviors of the world. This class will give them the knowledge and the tools to do just that."
Pool has collected accolades for his efforts to instruct students on conservation: He recently received the annual Chesapeake Bay Conservation Award, a national award sponsored by the Izaak Walton League of America and the DuPont Co. It recognizes individuals and groups who have done outstanding work to protect and restore Chesapeake Bay.
Pool's elective course started with 25 students in one section when Pool started at the high school. Now, 150 students take the class in five sections and there is a waiting list.
Students taking the course say Pool passes on practical lessons they'll be able to use throughout their lives, such as recycling and lobbying for environmental issues.
"You become more aware. You begin making a more conscious effort to do something about [the environment]," junior Andrew Read said.
The North Harford students garnered statewide recognition for their conservation projects in February when the House of Delegates issued a proclamation honoring them for their work.
Pool, who established much of the course's curriculum, said the class is designed to highlight environmental problems and pinpoint ways students can address those issues on their own, such as recycling and writing letters to government officials.
The course covers numerous environmental topics, from wildlife biology to air and water pollution to solid-waste management.
"Kids are scared," Pool said.
"They don't know what the future holds for them. We try to give them a message of hope -- that they can do something about it."
Over the last several years, Pool's students have undertaken a Chesapeake Bay Foundation pilot program to restore wetlands along Deer Creek, a Chesapeake tributary that runs from Baltimore County to the Susquehanna River.
Students planted trees and shrubs in a degraded wetlands area to improve water quality of the creek. The project taught students that trees and shrubs serve as "filters" which prevent pollutants from reaching the creek and the bay.
The foundation's program has since spread to other parts of Maryland, and Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Pool's students also have planted thousands of trees in a flood plain along a stream on school grounds as part of the state Green Shores program. The program encourages establishment of buffers along bay tributaries to protect aquatic life.
In addition, students have testified on environmental issues before state General Assembly committees.
They also have launched letter-writing campaigns to support wetland protection programs.
Pool noted that students develop their own initiatives to protect the environment, such as collecting money to donate to the Nature Conservancy, an international conservation organization. The money is be used to preserve rain forests in Central America.
During the Christmas break next December, Pool plans to take a group of students to Costa Rica so they can
witness efforts to protect the beauty of the rain forests.
The teacher also is seeking a state grant so students can study how development and farming along Deer Creek is affecting the water quality.
Pool's concern for the environment has influenced not only students, but his family, too. His concerns have rubbed off on his 8-year-old son, Jamie.
One day Jamie and his mother were at a Pylesville market when they came across eggs sold in plastic foam containers, Pool recalls. Jamie went to the manager to complain that the containers were not good for the environment because they could not be recycled.
The manager relayed the concern to the store's egg distributor, who agreed to set up a drop-off site for foam containers at the market, Pool said.
The facility is the first of its kind in Harford -- thanks to Jamie.
"He's starting young," Pool said. "I was very, very proud of him that he had the gumption to stand up for what's right."