A Fresh Take: TNCS Observes Earth Day 2020 . . . from a Safe Distance!

download.pngEarth Day has always been an important occasion at The New Century School—you can read about past observances at the end of this post. This year, Earth Day deserves our attention more than ever. For one, it’s the 50th anniversary of our planet’s largest civic event and the birth of the modern environmental movement. April 22, 1970 saw the U.S. population come together to protect our land, air, and water, and the movement has exploded worldwide since then.

download.jpgBut with the ongoing rollback of some of the most important environmental protection laws passed in the ensuing half century in the United States, the theme of Earth Day 2020 is, fittingly, Climate Action: Fight Today for a Better Tomorrow—because we need to halt this backslide.

Environmental sustainability is a cherished value at TNCS, and students regularly engage in supporting initiatives to keep our surroundings clean, healthy, and safe. With COVID-19 keeping all of us at home or at least socially distant, how can we show Planet Earth the love and respect it deserves?

Well, the TNCS Parent Council has you covered with their fresh take on Earth Day! Parent Council Director Sakina Ligon and Member Tilly Gurman felt that TNCS students needed to continue the tradition of recognizing Earth Day for the important occasion it is and put their heads together on how. Says Ms. Gurman:

Earth Day is celebrated all over the world on April 22nd to highlight the importance of protecting the environment. This year, the coronavirus forces us to be physically distant. As a result, the TNCS Parent Council is not able to host an in-person Earth Day event, as we have done in years past. At the same time, we can still come together as a virtual TNCS community and share the spirit of respecting and caring for the Earth.

Since we have been spending much of our days inside, the TNCS Parent Council would like to encourage families to think about ways to celebrate the Earth outside the home. Let’s celebrate our TNCS community and engage with the Earth, all while respecting physical distancing and staying healthy.

Top 10 Ways to Observe Earth Day 2020!

This list was specially curated by Ms. Gurman to get us outside safely and includes age-appropriate activities, ranging from appreciating nature to community service, for everyone. Choose an activity as-is from the list or modify one to fit your family’s needs. Either way, enjoy your Earth!

  1. Engage in a shape walk or collect the rainbow: Go for a walk outside, either near your home or in a more remote area. Take note of what shapes/colors you find.
    For the shape walk, look to see how many different shapes you are able to identify in nature. Visit Scholastic.com and GreatSchools.org for great tips.
    For collecting the rainbow, see if you can find something in nature for each color of the rainbow. Use this handy checklist.
  2. Do a nature scavenger hunt: Have fun exploring the environment around you, similar to the shape walk or collecting the rainbow. The difference with this activity is that you start with a specific list of things to:
    See (e.g., spider web, wildflowers, birds, squirrels)
    Collect (e.g., pinecones, feathers, rocks)
    Do (e.g., climb a tree, create a leaf rubbing, record a bird singing)
    Photograph (e.g., sunrise/sunset, animal tracks, bird nest).
    See how many of the items on your list you are able to identify. Use this example checklist; additional guidance can be found at HomeScienceTools.com and ProjectLearningTree.org.
  3. Have a picnic: Enjoy spring by having a picnic outside with your family. It can be outside your house or somewhere else nearby.
  4. Clean up your community: Don some gloves and walk around your neighborhood with a trash bag and pick up trash you see lying around. Separate recyclables from non-recyclables.
  5. Plant natives: Plant a plant that is native to the area, which is good for both the local environment and the insects and birds who make it their habitat.
    For a container garden, see Wikilawn.com and Native Plants for Container Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic.
    For a ground garden, see the BaltimoreSun.com, and the UMD Home and Garden Information Center.
  6. Perform outside: For those who like to sing or play an instrument that is portable, you can find a place outside to perform a song or two for family, neighbors, and friends (from a safe distance, of course).
  7. Write a poem: Write a poem for Earth Day and display on your window for anyone who is passing to enjoy.
  8. Create art using found materials: Go for a walk outside, either near your home or in a more remote area. Using materials found during your walk (either natural or manmade materials), create some form of art. It could be a sculpture combining the various pieces or you could use what you found as a brush or sponge to apply paint to canvas/paper. Be creative or visit KinderArt.com, BuggyandBuddy.com, or HappyHooligans for inspiration.
  9. Paint or draw en plein air: Not feeling like going for a hike? Take some coloring or drawing supplies and spend some time in your backyard or a nearby park to draw in fresh air. Let the outdoors inspire what you draw. You can then choose to display your artwork at home on a window for people passing by to enjoy.
  10. Create chalk art: Use chalk to draw or write a message on the sidewalk outside your house to share a message for Earth Day 2020. Be creative! The message can focus on specific messages (e.g., reduce, reuse, and recycle) or can be more general.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways we can overcome circumstances and celebrate Earth Day 2020 with plenty of fresh air and vigor. But that’s not all—we really need the “come together” part of this to boost our community. Ms. Gurman says, “Let’s also share our voices and experiences with one another. We’d love to have families share what they do by posting via social media with the hashtags #TNCSEarthDay2020, #TNCS, and #TNCSVirtualSchool.

So, from Sunday, April 19th through Sunday, April 26th, we ask you to post your Earth Day activity on the TNCS Facebook page using the hashtags above and also tagging @thenewcenturyschool (don’t forget the “the”!). Another option is to post in comments under the Earth Day event post on Facebook. Or, if you prefer, you can also send us your photos to files@thenewcenturyschool.com with Earth Day in the subject line, and we’ll post them for you.

. . . by the way, if getting outside is not going to happen for you for whatever the reason (not judging!), tune into Earth Day Live 2020 and enjoy virtually!


TNCS Gardens for Earth Day!

Earth Day happens on Sunday, April 22nd this year, with the theme “End Plastic Pollution”. But celebrating our planet is an everyday occurrence at The New Century School—green energy, ecological conservation, and sustainable gardening practices are themes TNCS students are very familiar with, as these are fundamental tenets of the school.

Earth Day itself is always special, though. For the second year in a row, for example, the TNCS Parent Council headed up Sakina Ligon, will host a Family Fun Day that, among lots of other super fun activities, includes crafting with recyclables (see below). TNCS Past year’s Earth Day observances include TNCS Takes Earth Day by Storm and Go Native for Earth Day 2016!

Greenhouse Effect!

Earth Day 2018, however, is extra special. Why? The greenhouse is back up and running, to the delight of students, staff, and families alike. With the changes in the lunch program for the 2017–2018 school year, the greenhouse lay dormant for a few months. Not so any longer! Meet Manuel Cueva, who joined TNCS in September as part of the new kitchen staff and has now taken over as Gardener.

tncs-earth-day-greenhouseSr. Cueva is originally from Cajamarca City, Peru, where he was a construction supervisor and engineer. “I worked at an NGO, IINCAP Jorge Basadre, focused on community development. I worked on projects related to the environment, youth development, health, community banking, and ending child labor,” he said. He came to the United States in June 2016.

Now that he’s here, he has begun working with TNCS students, teaching them to grow produce from seeds. “I like working with my hands and working outside, and I love taking care of nature,” he explained. They started last month, planting indoors, and, as the seedlings have grown sturdy enough, they are gradually moving them into the greenhouse beds (lovingly built last year by TNCS volunteers).

Sr. Cueva has worked with every TNCS class, from the 2-year-olds right on up through the middle schoolers. They have planted marigolds, beans, strawberries, tomatoes, and radishes, and any edible produce will be used in school lunch.

Trabajo del Jardin Abajo

On Friday, April 20th, Sr. Cueva took Professor Manuel’s students to the greenhouse for some transplanting.

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From the photos, it’s clear that students thoroughly enjoyed their greenhouse time as well as all of the advance preparation with the seedlings they lovingly raised. But children also learn and benefit in many other ways from growing things.

Through gardening, they can develop new skills, such as the sense of responsibility they derive from caring for plants; the scientific understanding they gain as they learn about cause and effect (plants will die without water, but thrive when they are properly tended); self-confidence from achieving their goals and enjoying the nutritious food they have grown; and the love of nature that develops as they learn about the outdoor environment in a safe and pleasant place. From there, stewardship of the environment also develops naturally.

Physical activity, collaboration, and discovery are also built-in benefits that TNCS students will realize through gardening. For more on the science-backed ways gardening is good for children, read, Gardening with Kids: How It Affects Your Child’s Brain, Body, and Soul.

Do you have suggestions, recommendation, advice, or questions? Sr. Cueva is eager to hear your thoughts. “If anyone has ideas or suggestions for the green house, please let me know,” he asks.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 1.25.15 PM

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 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!

blue-water-baltimore

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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