County lands first Green School

Western Heights Middle School earns state recognition for environmental work.

Western Heights Middle School earns state recognition for environmental work.

June 05, 2006|by KAREN HANNA


Despite their hard work and dirt-streaked arms, Western Heights Middle students displayed no objection to evidence that rabbits had come through a garden they have been planting.

After all, that's nature.

With a focus on the environment that crosses subjects and all grade levels, the middle school recently became one of 24 new Green Schools recognized by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education. On Friday, some students spread mulch and newspapers in the garden designed to absorb runoff water, while some of their classmates helped dig a hole for a tree awarded to the school by the state.

"One thing I've learned is it's not easy to plant, and another thing I've learned is just do everything you can do to help the environment because you'll see it progress and work a little better," said Rose Muchapondwa, 11, who called herself a nature lover.


Western Heights is Washington County Public Schools' first Green School, sixth-grade science teacher Becky Beecroft said.

According to Beecroft, middle school students have gained an awareness of environmental problems by tackling concepts such as composting, fossil fuels and endangered animals. They conducted stream studies, helped with recycling and raised turtles, Beecroft and Principal Jennifer Ruppenthal said.

In English classes, students wrote letters protesting a proposal for the establishment of a ready-mix concrete plant nearby, Beecroft said. According to The Herald-Mail, the Hagerstown Board of Zoning Appeals denied a request to open the plant.

"I learned a couple things about the environment, like air pollution and stuff ... and now, that I've learned about it, it really bothers me," 12-year-old Hannah Pittman said.

Her hands black with dirt, Nichole LaCasse, 13, said the concrete plant battle proves young people can make a difference.

"And, they said kids couldn't win, but we beat them, and they couldn't build their cement factory here," she said.

At the school's first environmental science fair more than a week ago, Ashley Hertrich, 12, showed off a birdhouse she made for swallows in her yard.

"I picked tree swallows because the day we picked a project, two tree swallows moved into our newspaper box, so I had to provide a home for them ..." Ashley said.

The swallows have moved on, but according to Ashley's parents, the Hertrich family plans to stick with some environmentally friendly approaches they have learned at school.

"We switched our lights over to fluorescent lights. They use less energy," said Ashley's mother, Carol Hertrich.

A former Washington County Hospital nurse who drives a hybrid car to work, Beecroft said she plans to push the green school concept when she takes her next teaching assignment at Smithsburg High School next year.

By learning about the environment, students see science in action, and they realize they can have a positive impact on the planet's future, Beecroft said.

"It's our life-support system. I think that's where the nursing and the green-school concept work hand in hand," Beecroft said.

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