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A hands-on environment


Ever feel like rebuilding wetland marshes for a turtle? How about planting celery grass or cleaning up a ditch full of ancient waste? Or maybe you always wanted a horseshoe crab for a pet.

For students in Ada Stambaugh's class at Harford Christian School, these activities are part of the curriculum.

For the past six years, Stambaugh has taught 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders environmental studies in her vibrantly decorated classroom in Darlington. She's been teaching at the school for 10 years and refuses to be contained by her classroom.

While studying the importance of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and its effect on area residents, she and her students often venture outside to take a hands-on approach to education. She began a project in the spring to repair the on-campus wetland, home to bog turtles and other native species.

Students worked as volunteers on three rainy Saturdays to clear the area, while learning to recognize the importance of certain soils as well as the significance of rainwater runoff. In the 2002-2003 school year, Stambaugh taught students how to prevent erosion and provide a stable environment for vegetation, such as the cool- and warm-season grasses that students planted at two different sites.

With 100 acres, including streams, ponds, meadows and woods, Harford Christian offers an overwhelming environmental resource for her class.

"What a teaching tool," said Stambaugh, who lives in White Hall. "There is nothing more boring to kids than to do the same thing year after year. You need to get them out, get them involved."

Stambaugh's students also participate in a wild-duck-monitoring project, in which about 80 boxes inhabited by the birds are watched for damage and nesting, in addition to a project that raises horseshoe crabs. The crabs are introduced to the class as eggs and grow into baby crabs, about the size of a dime, that crawl in and out of the sand in the classroom's plastic bins.

In watching the lengthy growing process of the crabs, students gain a greater appreciation for this unusual species while learning about its different substrate, or soil, needs.

Data are collected on the horseshoe crabs each week and sent to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which is trying to determine why the region's crab population is declining. In May, the class will return more than 100 horseshoe crabs to the bay.

Fifteen-year-old Joseph Seipp of Havre de Grace, a student in Stambaugh's environmental studies class, said he would recommend her class to any of his fellow students.

"I think that her unique teaching methods make the curriculum educational and enjoyable at the same time," he said. "My favorite thing about her class is definitely all the hands-on projects."

Stambaugh was among last month's finalists among 32 nominees for the Chesapeake Bay Trust 2004 Teacher of the Year Award.

Robert Foor-Hogue, a teacher at South Carroll High School in Sykesville, won the award this year.

"Because this was the first year of the trust's Teacher of the Year awards, we received an amazing list of candidates from which to select," said David J. O'Neill, executive director of the trust. "Ada's nomination shined. The work that she's done over the years reflects a true dedication to her students and the bay," he said.

"The kids deserve that award," she said. "They've done all the work for me. I got that [recognition] because of my ability to motivate kids, not because of my credentials."

Bryan Wilson, principal of Harford Christian School, said Stambaugh is an asset to the school and a passionate person, which shows in her teaching.

Students, he said, "can tell she really cares."

In the coming months, Stambaugh hopes to create a nature trail along the stream on the school's grounds, with various stations for learning about different aspects of ecology. She also plans to hold a weeklong summer science camp for students, possibly focusing on endangered wetland wildlife.

Leaving Harford Christian is not in Ada Stambaugh's plans.

"The day I wake up dreading coming here every day, that's the day I retire," she said. "But not anytime soon."

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