A big theme of the 2014–2015 school year for The New Century School elementary students has been environmental sustainability. Ever a core school value, STEM teacher Dan McGonigal’s special focus on conservation efforts this year made environmental sustainability the axis on which many elementary projects turned, such as the STEM Fair and storm drain stenciling.
True to his “nature,” Mr. McGonigal organized an elementary field trip to the James and Anne Robinson Nature Center last month, so all elementary divisions headed out to Howard County to visit the state-of-the-art facility. Featuring interactive exhibits on local habitats, wildlife, and the Chesapeake Bay, the center was the perfect destination for TNCS elementary, who love joining learning with fun and also had studied habitats and local waterways in various formats throughout the year. Said Mr. McGonigal, “We chose this trip because it provided our students with exposure to the outdoors in a local environment, which most of our students don’t get a chance to see on a regular basis. The center provided a lot of hands-on experiences that were meaningful for the students and helped them to better understand conservation efforts. They also had several differentiated lessons for the students based on age and grade level. This allowed us to choose topics that better met our areas of study this year.”
Between the discovery room and the digital, domed nature theater inside and the walking paths alongside native plants and rain gardens outside, the center kept TNCS students happily engaged. Additionally, each of the three divisions (K/1st, 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th) was accompanied by a guide who gave mini lessons, maintained an ongoing dialogue, and directed games and activities. “It was a wonderful experience. The classes were super interactive, the kids loved walking in the woods, and the exhibits were fun. The kids had a blast and learned a lot. It was fun to leave the city for the day!” said another TNCS elementary teacher, Adriana DuPrau.
The center is also renowned for marrying form with function—it was designed not only to teach appreciation of the environment, but its design itself demonstrates environmentally sound practices! It has earned such awards as “Best Sustainability Project of the Year in New Construction” and Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy Design) Certification, the highest rating from the U.S. Green Building Council—none of which was lost on Mr. McGonigal. “The center uses earth-friendly materials, such as solar panels for geothermal heating, a permeable or porous pavement, green roof, rain garden, and more. Our third and fourth grade students focused on environmental technologies that helped the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem as part of their STEM Fair projects, and they got to see some other projects in action as well,” he said.
“It was a great trip, and our kids seemed to really enjoy it!” said Mr. McGonigal. It was certainly a great wrap-up to a very productive—and environmentally aware—year!