TNCS Elementary Attends Healthy Harbor 2015 Report Card Release!

tncs-elementary-healthy-harborLast month, The New Century School‘s lower elementary class took a walking trip to Columbus Park to visit the pumping station for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, where the annual “Healthy Harbor Report Card” was being released. This is the second year that STEM teacher Dan McGonigal has incorporated this special event into his curriculum. Taking care of our local waterways—how to keep them clean, why they are so critically important, and what responsibility Baltimore citizens individually should assume regarding these bodies of water—is something that is near and dear to his heart:

I really embrace problems in the environment and how we can find new solutions to old problems. I think this comes from a high-school teacher who I really connected with. He was really passionate about the some of the issues going on concerning the environment, and I liked being outside, so I sort of went along with it. But then when much of what he said was going to happen has come true, I realized we really are headed in the wrong direction with the choices we make and what’s going on in the world. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to instill the value in being stewards of our environment. We should appreciate the natural world and study how to take care of it by making better choices to lessen our impact as much as possible.

Cutting right to the chase, our waterways received another overall failing grade for 2015; however, the purpose of the Healthy Harbor Report Card Release event is really about highlighting signs of improvement, explained Mr. McGonigal. Gwynns Falls, which got the first-ever passing grade in 2014 with a D– has improved to a D, for example.

You can learn more about the Healthy Harbor initiative by reading last year’s Immersed post on the subject, including all about the truly innovative Mr. Trash Wheel. Invented by Baltimore resident John Kellett and his company Clearwater Mills, this revolutionary water wheel intercepts hundreds of tons of trash before it reaches the Inner Harbor. (Good news on that score, too, by the way—as hoped, Canton is getting its own Trash Wheel!)

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The water wheel in all its glory—Fun fact: trash picked up by Mr. Trash Wheel generates power for Maryland homes!

Basically, though, the Report Card is a tool that helps track progress toward the goal of making the Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020, a goal established by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore together with Blue Water Baltimore. You can read the 2015 Report Card here. Said Mr. McGonigal:

There were generally very poor scores along the way. As you get further away from our waters and closer to the Chesapeake Bay, scores improve. It’s really our local waterways that show major problems. The amount of fecal matter and other contaminates show us that it’s not yet a swimmable area. Yet, there is good news, and the Report Card is better than last year’s. There are a lot of people here from all over the city and state and different parts of the government that are really trying and really have some buy-in into the future of the Patapsco River, the Inner Harbor, and the Chesapeake Bay. There are people working to make things better. There is a lot of passion there.

What did the 2nd/3rd-grade class take-away from this experience? “They were able to reiterate that even though things are bad, people are working to make it better. That was my main goal. I didn’t expect them to understand every word of the speeches being delivered. The overall message is that there are a lot of people watching this, and it does matter. It’s not just me telling them—this is coming from some very important people,” said Mr. McGonigal. Such stakeholders include Blue Water Baltimore Executive Director Halle Van der Gaag, Waterfront Partnership Board Chair Michael Hankin, Director of Baltimore City Public Works Rudy Chow, Maryland State Delegate Brooke Lierman, Congressman John Sarbanes, and Baltimore Councilman James Kraft, all of whom were also in attendance for the Report Card Release.

The best part for the class was touring the inside of the works, during which they began to realize how much is involved in keeping our water clean, regarding how to maintain the structures that are in place now and keep things going in the right direction. Said Mr. McGonigal, “They were enthralled by that and even got to turn on the pumping machine.”

As with last year, the field trip was a tie-in with other class themes. “Earlier in the year we studied the ecosystem and some of the major problems in the area, which led to our rain-barrel painting project—our primary ‘action project’,” said Mr. McGonigal. Other mini action projects grew out of their task of picking an environmental problem and determining how they would solve it. These ranged from measuring water usage in the home and encouraging their families to use less to examining leftover food at grocery stores and its ultimate fate to organizing pollution pick-ups at church and educating parishioners. They were also asked to incorporate math to calculate, for example, how much water was saved in a day, then a week, then a year, and on. “They learned that small changes really can add up and began to think about what we could accomplish if we all did these things,” said Mr. McGonigal. Some students even took an engineering approach to solving their problem. The culmination of these projects was in the form of Glogster digital presentations of their problems and individual solutions.

BALTIMORE_FLOATILLA-MAPAs for ongoing Healthy Harbor initiatives, don’t miss the inaugural Baltimore Floatilla, which is a 5-mile kayak paddle from Canton Waterfront Park to the harbor to rally for clean water, followed by an afterparty with food and live music back at the park in Canton. It’s happening Saturday, June 11th!

Go Native for Earth Day 2016!

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The Official TNCS Weeping Willow!

Earth Day is always an important occasion at The New Century School, and this year is no different. In honor of Earth Day 2016, the theme of which is Trees for the Earth, all TNCS classes gathered on the playground to witness the planting of a native Weeping Willow. Poetry and singing rounded out the tree dedication ceremony. Trees are basically the lungs of our planet, filtering out harmful gases and leaving the good stuff for us to breathe. Click here for more on Why trees?

But now let’s zoom in and focus some good Earth Day vibes a little closer to home. Trees aren’t the only environmentally beneficial plantings we can make. Indigenous plants—plants that occur naturally in the region in which they evolved—also make huge contributions to keeping the local environment healthy and thriving. The Patterson Park Audubon Center urges Baltimore City and surrounding residents to “Take Climate Action” and to preserve biodiversity by using native plants in your garden, be it potted or full-scale.

One of the primary reasons this is particularly important for our area is because Baltimore (a.k.a. Birdtown), as part of the Atlantic Flyway, is a vital stopover point for many species of migrating birds. Yet, over time, the number of green spots in the city where these birds can refuel during their long journeys has dwindled. PPAC is working to change that: “Audubon has observed over 200 species of birds in Patterson Park, with over 40 of those species using the park to breed and raise their young. Our habitat gardens in the park are filled with a diversity of native plants from Maryland which serve as hosts for insects—birds’ favorite food—as well as provide essential seeds, berries, nectar, shelter, water, and places to raise their young.”

PPAC can also help you create your own wildlife sanctuary (or, garden, patch, or windowbox) through workshops, resources, and more. But first, let’s explore why native plants are so vital.

Benefits of Native Plants

According to the Audubon.org website, native plants are great for:

  • Wildlife: In addition to providing vital habitat for birds, many other species of wildlife benefits as well. The colorful array of butterflies and moths, including the iconic monarch, the swallowtails, tortoiseshells, and beautiful blues, are all dependent on very specific native plant species. Native plants provide nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds, native bees, butterflies, moths, and bats. They provide protective shelter for many mammals. The native nuts, seeds, and fruits produced by these plants offer essential foods for all forms of wildlife.
  • Low maintenance: Once established, native plants generally require little maintenance.
  • Beauty: Many native plants offer beautiful showy flowers, produce abundant colorful fruits and seeds, and brilliant seasonal changes in colors from the pale, thin greens of early spring, to the vibrant yellows and reds of autumn.
  • Healthy places for people: Lawns and the ubiquitous bark-mulched landscapes are notorious for requiring profuse amounts of artificial fertilizers and synthetic chemical pesticides and herbicides. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has 10x more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are not only helping wildlife, but you are creating a healthier place for yourself, your family, and your community.
  • Helping the climate: Landscaping with native plants can combat climate change. In addition to the reduced noise and carbon pollution from lawn mower exhaust, many native plants, especially long-living trees like oaks and maples, are effective at storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
  • Conserving water: Because native plants are adapted to local environmental conditions, they require far less water, saving time, money, and perhaps the most valuable natural resource, water.

Gardening with Native Plants

Unfortunately, most of the plants available in the larger, nationally known nurseries are not native to the region where they are being sold. These alien species can degrade the local habitat, the ecological basis for insects, birds, and, by extension, humans. By using native plants in our urban gardens (such as they are), however, we preserve the natural symbiosis of our area.

Using any number of native plants is going to help the environment, but if you really want to go the extra mile (as the crow flies) toward making your green space a sanctuary for wildlife, follow the scheme from PPAC shown below.

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And now, you ask, where do I avail myself of these native plants? Partnering with PPAC, Blue Water Baltimore’s Herring Run Nursery has all the native wonder you could ask for—over 250 varieties of trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers that support butterflies, pollinators, birds, and other wildlife. Can’t make it out to Herring Run? No problem–PPAC  will once again be hosting a Native Plant Sale in Patterson Park during the Butchers Hill Flea Market on Saturday, May 14th.

So, in honor of Earth Day, let your garden grow for the environment this year!

TNCS Elementary Engages in Conservation By the Barrel

With Earth Day 2016 only a week away, you must be wondering, what awesome environment-friendly project will The New Century School students be involved in this year? You are certainly recalling that, since his tenure at TNCS began, elementary STEM teacher Dan McGonigal has made the most out of Earth Day annually to explore conservation and ways to help the environment both locally and globally. Read about last year’s efforts here: TNCS Elementary Takes Earth Day by Storm!

And this year will not disappoint! In fact, this year’s project is one of those learning experiences where individual components come together in a beautiful whole worth far more than the sum of its parts. Mr. McGonigal managed to harness science, art, team-building, environmental advocacy, and fundraising for TNCS to do some actual, measurable good for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed area.

What is the product of this amazing, synergy? Handpainted rain barrels! Even better, these rain barrels will be raffled to four lucky winners on Friday, April 29th!

The project was a partnership with Barrels by the Bay, which Mr. McGonigal learned about through Blue Water Baltimore, who he worked with on last year’s storm drain stenciling. According to their website, “Barrels by the Bay is a non-profit organization focused on contributing to sustainable development of the communities within the Chesapeake Bay watershed and surrounding regions. [They] work to help combat flooding and stormwater runoff concerns throughout communities within these regions, educate community members about our world’s water issues and the importance of water conservation efforts, and inspire students to preserve our world’s water resources.”

The organization came into being on the 22nd Annual United Nations World Water Day, on March 22, 2015, in Annapolis, Maryland, kicking off with a project for area schools to repurpose 50-gallon Coca-Cola syrup drums as rain barrels. In 2016, they expanded their reach to other schools within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed region, including TNCS. Their efforts are having quite an impact: An average of 700 gallons is collected in one rainfall (1 inch of rain in 24 hours) in the 50-gallon rain barrel drum. If Maryland has an average of 41 inches of rain per year, then in just 1 year, one barrel can collect 28,700 gallons of water. That’s no mere drop in the bucket!

But, as mentioned, collecting tons of water is not all they are good for. Says Mr. McGonigal: “In the fall, we used the barrels to develop teamwork and cooperative learning skills in the 2nd–5th grades. They designed the artwork and then voted on the best designs (two per class). They then prepped the barrels for painting by sanding and priming them. They traced their designs on the barrels and, finally, painted them.”

You can watch the 6-month evolution of their creations in this slideshow.

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“This was also another opportunity for us to put our environmental learning into action. It was a great experience and I hope to make this a yearly event in my class,” said Mr. McGonigal. They then decided to turn the rain barrel project into a fundraiser for TNCS and Barrels by the Bay (each organization gets half of the proceeds). “We also have one more barrel that will be used on our school campus. This will be decorated by student handprints on Earth Day. We hope to use it to help water our school garden,” he said.

Don’t miss the chance to win one of these beautiful and functional rain barrels for your home—get your raffle tickets through the TNCS office through Friday 4/29/16 (by 8:30 am). And don’t worry, Barrels by the Bay even offers workshops to demonstrate how to  harvest rainwater from your roof, store it, and use it for your own home as well as to explain how rain barrels also improve water quality in our rivers and streams.

Thanks to TNCS 2nd–5th science classes, Barrels by the Bay, and the TNCS community, what a great Earth Day this one will be! And a big shout-out to Mr. McGonigal for his continued in-class focus on environmental conservation!

TNCS Elementary Attends Healthy Harbor Report Card Release!

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TNCS upper elementary enjoyed their last field trip of the year that was fun and educational. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Record.)

On June 4th, The New Century School‘s upper elementary class took a walking trip to Harbor East to attend Baltimore’s annual “Healthy Harbor Report Card 2014 Release”. This field trip was the culminating event of STEM teacher Dan McGonigal’s yearlong in-class exploration of our local waterways—how to keep them clean, why they are so critically important, and what responsibility Baltimore citizens individually should assume regarding these bodies of water. It was an ideal theme, inviting exploration from many STEM angles, and it also set the tone for Mr. McGonigal’s extremely successful first year at TNCS. From the STEM Fair, to Earth Day community outreach in the form of storm drain stenciling, to attending the Health of the Harbor announcement, TNCS elementary students have made a deep connection with Baltimore’s very special natural environments this year.

Mr. McGonigal said that in addition to closing out the water theme of the 2014–2015 school year, he also wanted “to make the end of the year productive, but also fun for the students.” Achieved in spades if these photos are any indication!
And it’s no wonder—Baltimore has achieved something unique with its concerted efforts to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. Swimmable?! Fishable?! You read correctly: Healthy Harbor is an initiative of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, and the Report Card, which is ultimately a tool that helps communicate the swimmable/fishable goal and track progress, is the result of the Waterfront’s partnership with Blue Water Baltimore (whom you may recall donated TNCS’s storm drain stenciling materials).
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The water wheel in all its glory—Fun fact: trash picked up by Mr. Trash Wheel generates power for Maryland homes!

To meet this lofty aim, which many once deemed utterly impossible, Baltimore installed the Inner Harbor Water Wheel at the end of the Jones Falls in May 2014 to intercept trash (which everyone who has ever laid eyes on the Inner Harbor recognizes as its biggest current plague). Invented by Baltimore resident John Kellett and his company Clearwater Mills, the water wheel has gained worldwide fame and provided the inspiration for similar water clean-up initiatives to be proposed globally, from Rio De Janeiro to Rotterdam. 

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The ingenious design of this water wheel is a “game-changer for trash in urban water bodies!”

“Mr. Trash Wheel,” as the water wheel is now known, has accomplished some pretty extraordinary feats, as his Facebook page and frequent tweets attest (#MrTrashWheel). As of this week, in fact, Mr. Trash Wheel has intercepted 205 tons of trash before it reaches the Inner Harbor in its first year, and a whopping 45 tons from this past Monday’s storm alone! This more than doubles Mr. Trash Wheel’s former single-day record of 19 tons! Read more about the water wheel.

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Mr. Trash Wheel’s first year of very hard work was commemorated with the world’s most disgusting-looking cake!

Healthy Harbor showed its appreciation for Mr. Trash Wheel’s hard work at the Report Card Release by celebrating his first birthday with a cake made of refuse—Mr. Wheel’s preferred intake, of course. And there was certainly cause to celebrate, because the Report Card—for the first time ever—showed a passing grade for Gwynns Falls! That the grade, a D–, is only barely passing is not the point. As one TNCS student remarked, “even though things seem bad, they are getting better.” That’s exactly right! Baltimore waterways are moving in the right direction. The plan is working, as presentations by representatives from the various stakeholders, including District 46 Delegate Brooke Lierman, clearly demonstrate.

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Featured on the Report Card’s cover, these John Eager Howard elementary students are part of their school’s Green Team and gave a lovely speech on cleaning up the harbor.

Delegate Lierman (and TNCS parent) said of TNCS’s attendance at the event: “Involvement by students, like those at TNCS and John Eager Howard, is instrumental in helping us to ensure that Baltimore residents of all ages are invested in and working together to create a cleaner harbor! I’m so glad that students from both of these schools were able to attend the Report Card Release to learn firsthand about the need for advocacy and involvement to bring about positive change in our City.”

Afterward, Mr. McGonigal voted the walking field trip, “an awesome experience” and was very proud of his homeroom students who were respectful and focused during the speeches and presentations. “We learned a lot about the efforts in place to improve the health of the Baltimore Harbor and other area waterways. We also learned that there is a great effort by many people who are trying to help improve the situation. I hope we as a school can get further involved in projects related to the health of the harbor,” said Mr. McGonigal. He invites your suggestion and ideas for continued work by TNCS students.

In the meantime, you can read the 2014 Report Card here. Need still more good news? It’s here—officially announced just yesterday, Canton may be getting its very own water wheel! Also visit cantonwaterwheel.com for more information and to donate in support of Baltimore’s second water-powered trash interceptor.

TNCS Elementary Takes Earth Day by Storm!

Recently, The New Century School elementary students participated in their annual STEM Fair, and each division (K/1st and upper and lower elementary) tackled a problem related to water. The upper elementary students, in particular, focused on the Chesapeake Bay and what steps can be taken to reduce pollution in the bay and protect its natural flora and fauna (read TNCS STEM Fair 2015 Makes a Huge Splash! for more).

Last week was Climate Education Week, with Earth Day being the week’s main attraction. Earth Day 2015 was the 35th annual and a very big deal, globally . . . and locally! To reinforce the concepts his students had begun exploring during STEM Fair preparations, TNCS’s STEM teacher Dan McDonigal revisited the problem of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay for a clever and very rewarding Earth Day project: Operation Storm Drain Beautification!

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Blue Water Baltimore offers community-led solutions to clean up Baltimore’s waters.

The idea for the project came to him from Blue Water Baltimore, an advocacy group dedicated to using community-based restoration to achieve clean water in Baltimore watersheds. One way is by stenciling storm drains to educate the community and raise awareness about the improper disposal of household garbage, overflowing street corner trash cans, and litter on sidewalks and in gutters and storm drains. Because storm drains are entryways to our bodies of water, including the Chesapeake Bay, when it rains, trash and pollutants in the streets are carried into the storm drains and directly to our waters.

So, Mr. McDonigal attended one of Blue Water Baltimore’s stenciling workshops, applied for and obtained the necessary materials to paint two nearby storm drains, and celebrated Earth Day 2015 by making a difference in our wonderful Fell’s Point community! His students were thoroughly engaged in this project, which demonstrates its inherent worthiness. Really, what’s not to love about an activity that applies scientific concepts studied thus far, helps the environment, teaches responsible community involvement, integrates art, and gets the kids outside?

However, TNCS students were not the only group to appreciate this endeavor—Ann St. residents stopped by periodically to see what was happening and were thrilled to receive this community gift. Well done, indeed, TNCS upper elementary! And a huge thanks to Mr. McDonigal for this initiative!

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