As most Oakland Mills High School students board their buses for the ride home, Andrew Brown and Sara Andino are in a science room in the far corner of the building, holding a meeting of Environmental Club. As co-presidents of this ecologically friendly group, Brown and Andino volunteer their time to make the club a good place to learn about the "backyard science" of the Oakland Mills community.
Their responsibilities include finding discussion topics and activities for club meetings, organizing projects such as cleaning up the school campus, and writing grant requests so that the members of the club can go on field trips with school science classes.
The Environmental Club is defined by the passion of its members and advisers to raise environmental awareness in the community. "If one person puts forth the effort to clean up our community, then they make a difference," said Brown. "And if one person does it and then another person does it, that's how you create change."
The club is responsible for clearing the school grounds of litter and keeping nearby streams clean. Members also participate in service initiatives sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and have gone on many field trips with the school's science department. On one trip, club members learned about the pesticides present in farm runoff and its effects on the Chesapeake Bay.
The club also holds car washes to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, tests the pH level of nearby streams, encourages community recycling and is creating a Web page.
Club members also take part in a tutoring program that helps students in science-related courses.
"The students may feel uncomfortable asking us for help ... but it's natural for them to ask their peers ... [and] if it's something that can be handled peer-to-peer then it magnifies the mentor opportunity," said Regina Wilson, the club's co-adviser. "Working closely with the club upperclassmen is a warm welcoming for freshmen to high school."
The bond created by the tutoring program and the support offered by Wilson and co-adviser Karen Greenhorn has given the club a close-knit atmosphere.
"It's great to know that we're not only helping the community but we're also family-based. It's not just us getting the work done; it's us being united and being together and being there for each other," said Andino about her relationship with her advisers.
One of the club's goals is to make the high school a "green" school - one that is ecologically efficient. Though there are many requirements it must meet, the club has tackled the energy-efficiency aspect of its certification by replacing all of the fluorescent light bulbs with more economical ones.
Greenhorn said that being involved in the Green Schools program is important to the club.
"The students learn from example, and if you are giving them a positive example of a healthy environment. ... then it provides a framework so the students can determine what they can do in order to help create a healthy environment of their own," she said.