By. Melanie Parker, Coordinator of Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education for Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland
As part of its overall strategic goals, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) in Maryland, strives to have every school be a green school to build positive direction within the schools themselves and benefit the school system as a whole. As school principals look to establish a positive culture within their schools, utilizing the vision of becoming and being a green school can provide a shared vision and purpose for the whole school. Through this vision and purpose, AACPS acknowledges that green schools have the potential to prepare students for the next step in their lives, whether that is college or a career. Christopher Wooleyhand, Ph.D., Principal at Richard Henry Lee Elementary, states:
“Green schools ensure that students are well-rounded. Through green school initiatives, students begin to understand the connection between the classroom and the real world. Green school practices enrich the culture of the whole school through hands-on learning and environmental stewardship.”
In 2013, AACPS adopted a Sustainability Policy that officially helped to define what the school system has been practicing for many years. The Sustainability Policy cemented the district’s commitment to environmental sustainability and put in place a committee to facilitate the development and implementation of sustainability practices and policies into the future. Currently, 70 out of 120 schools (58%) in AACPS hold Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) Green School certification. In addition, AACPS’s Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center and two other facilities are certified as MAEOE Green Centers. These centers model environmental education, conservation, sustainable practices, and community engagement, as well as support schools in becoming Green Schools. This commitment to sustainability and deep implementation of green school practices resulted in the district’s designation in 2016 as a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School District Sustainability Awardee.
Anne Arundel County schools have been participating in the MAEOE Green School program since its outset, and many of its schools are re-certified every four years. Three Anne Arundel Schools (Davidsonville Elementary, Shipley’s Choice Elementary, and West Annapolis Elementary) are considered Sustainable Maryland Green Schools, a recognition given to schools that have maintained their green school status for 14 years. Two of its schools (Folger McKinsey Elementary and Broadneck High School) are U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.
Participating schools encourage sustainability, foster environmental literacy, and empower youth to reduce their environmental impact. As schools re-certify, they continue to integrate and reinforce environmental lessons, resulting in progress toward a more sustainable future. The Maryland Green School objectives include environmental issue instruction, professional development for teachers, school-wide environmental behavior changes, celebration of green practices, community partnerships, and student driven sustainability practices that include responsible transportation and reduced emissions, healthy living and learning environments, water conservation and pollution reduction, energy conservation, structures for environmental learning, habitat restoration, and solid waste reduction. The AACPS Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education office (in collaboration with the Division of Facilities) assists schools in the planning and application process; conducts green school presentations; and provides environmental curriculum (including implementation of environmental literacy standards), technical support, instructional outreach in the classroom, and outdoor environmental education instruction.
STEM, Green Technologies, and Careers
Throughout the district there are opportunities for students to engage in green college and career initiatives. All twelve AACPS comprehensive high schools offer AP Environmental Science. The Environmental Science elective course is offered at ten of the twelve high schools and at one of the district’s alternative education sites.
- Each AACPS high school offers a unique Signature Program. Signature Programs bring together educators with local businesses and community leaders to make classroom instruction relevant, interesting, and challenging for students with opportunities that connect to the 21st century workplace. Environmental Literacy is the Signature at one high school, and many other Signature themes include concepts that address human impact on the global environment.
- The STEM Magnet High School program offers a green technology option where students participate in environmentally focused specialty classes, including Environment and Society and Green Architecture.
- The STEM Magnet High School program also offers a Community Challenge course where students are paired with businesses/community members to develop real world solutions. Examples of student development projects include invasive species removal plans, app development for stormwater tours, a bicycle with cart to supply healthy food (fruits and vegetables) to the AACPS community, and bioretention area redesign.
- The STEM Middle School Magnet Program offers students an inquiry-based, interdisciplinary environment to explore diverse subjects. Student entering 6th grade are required to attend a 2-day outdoor field experience. STEM themes often engage students in environmental issues focused on the Chesapeake Bay.
- The Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education Office offers yearlong and semester internships for students on topics such as submerged aquatic vegetation mapping, wildlife camera trap monitoring, native bee surveys, environmentally themed mural design, and phytoplankton monitoring in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Ocean Service Marine Biotoxins Program.
- The Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) at one high school provides a high level of educational experiences to students to enhance the rigor and relevance of agriculture, food, and natural resources subject matter. CASE uses science inquiry for lesson foundation, and concepts are taught using activity-, project-, and problem-based instructional strategies.
- The Center for Applied Technology – Environmental Resource Management (ERM) program gives students working knowledge and first-hand experience in the areas of water resources, fisheries/wildlife, soil, forests, and watershed restoration. Project/problem-based learning allows students to investigate environmental topics, research best practices, and experiment with new ideas to identify restoration and sustainability practices.
- All Center for Applied Technology programs, from Welding to Culinary Arts, include activities focused on sustainability practices for that industry.
- In the Biomedical Allied Health program, students are designing and developing a vertical garden to enhance air quality and improve courtyard aesthetics.
- Students from 3 high schools participate in an annual Environmental Career Symposium sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Partnerships play an important role in the implementation and facilitation of sustainability practices at AACPS. Within the school system, the county, and in the community, these partnerships support each one of the Green Ribbon Pillars, working together to create college and career ready students and a more sustainable future.
- Within AACPS, the Wellness Council supports sustainability practices through the construction of a Wellness toolkit for principals and schools, strengthening the school system’s focus on all aspects of student and staff health. The toolkit supports nutrition, indoor air quality, environmental health, and physical activity. The Wellness Council is led by the Deputy Superintendent together with Board of Education members, school system staff, and employees of the County and State Department of Health.
- Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works (DPW) and AACPS’s Facilities Division work together to support the restoration of many streams and rivers throughout the county, and meet quarterly on projects. DPW also supports environmental literacy by providing opportunities for students to be engaged in action projects at these sites as part of their environmental literacy curriculum.
- Nonprofits play a significant role in supporting implementation of the environmental literacy curriculum. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Annapolis Maritime Museum provide environmental programming, grants, and professional development for teachers.
AACPS continues to strengthen its commitment and resources for building a sustainable community. As a large school district, environmental practices and implementation can be overwhelming. AACPS has taken on that challenge. Without a specialized office responsible for developing sustainability initiatives, AACPS achieves similar results through its dedicated Sustainability Committee. Together, the district has built a collaborative and productive sustainable school community that supports student achievement and can serve as an example to other districts.
Anne Arundel County is Maryland’s fifth largest school district, serving over 81,000 students and 10,000 employees. We have over 13.4 million square feet of facility space and a $26 million utility budget, making it essential to reduce our impact on our environment.
About the Author
Melanie Parker combines her passion for the environment and love of teaching by serving as the Coordinator of Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education for Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) in Maryland. Through the development and implementation of environmental literacy curriculum and programming, she serves to empower students of all ages through authentic hands-on outdoor experiences with the environmental knowledge, skills, and motivation to make and act upon responsible environmental decisions. Melanie has been with Anne Arundel County for the past 20 years serving as an educator and teacher prior to becoming the administrator. Prior to AACPS, she worked with nonprofits. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education at the University of Maryland and holds certificates in administration and teaching.