Students get ready for 'big dig' in the garden [Old Town Laurel]

Things are soon to grow at Laurel Elementary School, and it's not just the students.

The school will be the site of a "big dig" on Friday, June 2 to install two outdoor classrooms and vegetable and perennial gardens on its campus on Montgomery Street. The project is the fruit of a recently awarded partnership with REAL School Gardens, which funds learning gardens and teacher training at partner schools around the country.

REAL School Gardens, with support from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, is expected to invest a total of about $100,000 in Laurel Elementary over the next three years. Many of those dollars will go toward professional development opportunities for each of the 23 faculty members.

"Every year we will be learning more about how to teach and integrate the sciences in our lessons and offer hands-on opportunities," said principal Melinda Lee.

REAL School Gardens is scheduled to work this week on creating the two outdoor classrooms. One will be uncovered and feature stumps for seats, while the other will be covered and offer picnic table seating. Both will have whiteboards.

School staff, students and volunteers will be responsible for digging and planting the vegetable and perennial gardens during the day-long "big dig" event June 2. Other learning garden features will include rainwater harvesters, compost bins, earth science stations and animal habitats.

REAL School Gardens was started in 2007 in Texas and many of its partner schools are in that state. More recently, it has expanded into the Mid-Atlantic region. The only other Maryland partner school listed on the group's website is Beacon Heights Elementary School in Riverdale.

About 80 adult volunteers are needed for the June 2 dig. Supplies, including spades, shovels and battery-operated electric drills, are also needed. If you are interested in volunteering or if you can provide supplies, please contact Laurel Elementary at 301-497-3660.

Several teachers in our Old Town schools will be honored May 25 at the Prince George's County Schools Employee Recognition Dinner at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt.

Patricia Walker, of Laurel Elementary School, and Michael Hines and Luis Penton Herrera, of Laurel High School, are all recipients of this year's Outstanding Employee Awards. Only 18 school system employees will be so honored this year.

Walker is a media specialist at Laurel Elementary who said she values the fact that she gets to work with every student in the school. She sees herself as a partner with classroom teachers and said her award encourages her to keep working hard for staff and students.

Hines is the instructor of Laurel High's CISCO Networking Academy, which helps students earn certifications in information technology. He is an outspoken promoter of the program and notes with pride that Networking Academy students at Laurel High have had a 100 percent pass rate on their CISCO certification exams in each of the last five years.

Penton Herrera is a Marine Corps veteran and teacher in Laurel High's program for English for speakers of other languages. He is also an adjunct instructor at Howard Community College and University of Maryland University College.

Josita Allen, a Head Start teacher at Scotchtown Hills Elementary School, will also be honored at the recognition dinner for her 45 years of service to county public schools.

Congratulations and thank you to our teachers!

Speaking of education, the Laurel Historical Society has announced that it has extended the application deadline for its inaugural McCeney Scholarships to July 1. The two $750 scholarships are open to Laurel-area high school students who are interested in social studies and committed to studying it in college. The scholarships are named in honor of the late LHS chairman and president James McCeney. Full scholarship details and applications are available at

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