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Young minds reel in environmental lessons

Small, eager hands reached for the bright yellow fishing rods on a picture-perfect Earth Day at the edge of the Magothy River. Young voices called out questions. Grins decorated carefree faces.

Forty years after the first celebration April 22, we're still fouling the nest. That's the bad news.

But for the good news, visit Eagle Cove School in Pasadena, where students talk the talk and walk the walk.

In 2005, Eagle Cove -- then known as Gibson Island Country School -- was named a Maryland Green School for its extensive environmental science program. Two years ago, the students welcomed noted primatologist Jane Goodall as the speaker at their Roots and Shoots Fair, an education movement she started in 1991.

These kids understand the connection between their actions and what our landscape and atmosphere look like and smell like. They grow and plant submerged aquatic vegetation, grow oysters and build reef balls, recycle and compost, raise terrapins for release on Poplar Island and build wood duck boxes and osprey platforms.

And they nag.

"They get after us for idling our cars and letting the water run," said Head of School Laura Kang. "Every grade has a hands-on project, and they believe in it. As a parent, you are changed."

Of course, a cynic might sneer that they're too young to have acquired the adult taste for driving big cars, drinking water out of throwaway plastic bottles and living in McMansions. Let's face it, if they're looking for Earth Day role models in this regard, we're probably not it.

As the late Bill Burton noted in his Bay Weekly column two years ago on Earth Day, "Yes, the majority wants action -- if they can have it without inconvenience."

Looking at the landscape, Burton concluded, "We're so much worse off than we were in 1970. Earth is not flat -- but we're flattening it."

Luckily, the seven classes at Eagle Cove that cover pre-kindergarten through fifth grade are smarter than the big people. And the fact that they raced outdoors for a casting lesson Thursday would have brought a smile to Burton's face.

Fittingly, the instructors were the late outdoors writer's wife, Lois Burton, and daughter Heather Boughey, who arrived with rods and reels, tackle boxes, soft casting hooks to avoid injury and an array of her father's lures. One of the students at the receiving end of the lesson was Mackenzie Boughey, an Eagle Cove second-grader and Burton's granddaughter.

With news last week of an oil rig explosion and threat of a spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- and the possibility of Maryland getting platforms of its own off Ocean City someday -- I was a not-very-chipper Earth Day celebrant.

(A quick aside: Why is the Obama administration committed to protecting beaches and fishes north of Delaware from offshore drilling but OK with making everything south, including Ocean City and Assateague beaches, fair game? We have, what, 30 miles of oceanfront? Is that too much to ask? Guess the president doesn't surf fish.)

But I digress.

Despite my Earth Day gloom, it's hard to remain a party pooper when your hosts are so full of enthusiasm and hope for the future.

Out on the school lawn, the kids figured out their push-button reels and took aim at red foam fish "swimming" in the grass.

No one showed a lot of patience -- I should talk -- but I don't believe anyone was skunked.

Adult anglers, take note: These kids know their fish flash cards, from Norfolk spot and white perch to striped bass and summer flounder. They know that Nemo was a clownfish and that the big, toothy character in the movie was an angler fish. Many of them have pretty good fishing stories already -- tales that will improve like fine wine as they learn the adult art of fish-fibbing. Some were even using the phrase "catch and release" in their stories.

Plus, when Lois Burton asked why fishing is good for the environment, students responded that anglers make good stewards. And one more thing.

"If you can fish," said one boy, "you can be your parents' retirement plan."

After laughing uproariously, my good friend Bill Burton would have concluded, "Enough said."


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