Engaging Baltimore Students in Urban Habitat and Water Quality Enhancement

Leah Davis, Chesapeake Bay Conservation Corps Member, sets the stage today with her project to connect Baltimore students with wildlife and their watershed.

For students in Baltimore City, and across the nation, environmental stewardship often takes a back seat to math and reading goals. Contrary to this, the students at Benjamin Franklin High School are engaged in science and service learning from the time they enroll as ninth graders. This year students have been participating in a Meaningful Watershed Education Experience (MWEE) with the Baltimore Rivers to Harbor Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership (formally named Masonville Cove Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership) and several other Baltimore area environmental organizations.

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Students, their teacher, and staff from USFWS and the National Aquarium pose with the planted rain garden. The environmental science and biology teachers at Benjamin Franklin High School will incorporate the garden into future lessons about habitat, water quality, and pollution. Credit: Chris Guy, USFWS

This year, students took part in a series of field experiences where they conducted research, made detailed observations, and discovered actions they can take to minimize the adverse effects they may have been having on the watershed. During a fieldtrip to Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center, students collected and analyzed water quality data with guidance from the Living Classrooms Foundation naturalists. Staff from the Chesapeake Bay Field Office and the National Aquarium assisted students in conducting a mini-bioblitz on the Masonville Cove campus, discovering the various pollinator species and other wildlife living in the urban habitat.

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Gaby Roffe of the National Aquarium holds a monarch butterfly students captured at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center. Credit: Leah Davis, USFWS

In an additional field experience exercise, students investigated water flow on their campus noting features such as topography and impermeable surfaces. Once students further understood the environmental and ecological implications of urban water movement in their watershed, they discussed possible “student action projects” to improve the water and habitat quality in the community. In addition to common ideas such as picking up litter, washing cars in designated areas, and avoiding pesticide use, students agreed that installing a rain garden on campus would be a great way to improve both water and habitat quality in the community.

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Environmental science students plant native fall nectar sources that will provide urban habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinator species. Credit: Leah Davis, USFWS

A 450 square foot rain garden was installed on Benjamin Franklin High School’s campus with funding provided by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and CSX CorporationThe garden, constructed by Blue Water Baltimore, filters runoff and provides pollinator habitat in the urban watershed. While the technical design of the garden was completed by Chesapeake Bay Field Office biologists and partners, students assisted with designing the plant layout in the garden and planted native milkweeds and fall nectar sources. Students summarized their experiences throughout the entire MWEE in group presentations to their peers.

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The newly constructed rain garden filters up to 350 cubic feet of water during rain events. Credit: Leah Davis

The enthusiasm and commitment of these high school students and members of the Masonville Cove Urban Partnership clearly show that residents of urban areas have a big role to play in the future of America’s cities and conservation of wildlife.

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