Gibson Island Country School project teaches about waste, saving the bay

The Baltimore Sun

The fifth-grade class at Gibson Island Country School in Pasadena is both proud and sad about the 800 pounds of compost the school produced this year.

All of that trash was saved from a landfill. But the heavy heap represents food that students tossed out during the school year, said Christina Helowicz, a 10-year-old from Pasadena.

"Sometimes we see whole sandwiches in there," she said.

The students presented their findings Tuesday to their school as part of its weeklong Bay Days program. The event, which started four years ago, culminates a year's worth of student environmental projects.

"Everything was leading up to this week," said Tim Decker, the school's science teacher.

Second-graders went on a birding trip Monday to nearby Downs Park. First-graders went to Poplar Island Tuesday and released terrapins they raised into the Chesapeake Bay. Third-graders replanted oysters Wednesday in the Severn River and the fourth-graders planted bay grasses. The fifth-graders took the kindergarten class seining on Thursday on the Magothy Narrows, which borders the school's property.

The school also invited two children's book authors to give presentations. Jennifer Keats Curtis of Arnold talked to the students Monday about terrapins and ospreys and the hazards they face from pollution and development. Bianca Lavies, a former National Geographic photographer who lives in Annapolis, showed students slides of the wildlife photos she had taken over her career.

The Bay Days program changed little from last year, except for the expansion of the composting program. Decker, a transplant from Asheville, N.C., kept much of the curriculum the same because it is his first year at the school. Next year, he plans to work closer with the Magothy River Association because he wants his students to take more advantage of their location on the waterway.

Decker showed no shyness about ramping up the composting program, said Merrill S. Hall III, head of the school.

"Mr. Decker is very enthusiastic about making sure we know where it all goes," he said.

The fifth-graders took the lead on the composting project. Each homeroom had a white composting bucket where students could discard their food scraps from lunch and snack time. The children collected the buckets and weighed them before dumping them in the wooden compost receptacle in the back of the school. The smelly pile provided a clear picture to students of what happens to their throwaways.

"It teaches them to pack smaller lunches," Decker said. "It's a good way to keep them thinking and talking about [reducing waste]."

The decaying material has just started producing a rich soil that the school will use around the property, he said.

To further drive home the message of cutting back on trash, the school had a "no waste" day on Friday. Students could use only cloth napkins and reusable containers for their lunches.

Bay Days is all about encouraging students to be good environmental stewards, said Stephen Finan, a fifth-grader from Pasadena.

"It's teaching us to save the bay for later generations," he said.

Christina, his classmate, corrected him: "It's teaching us to save the world, really."

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