Educating students about the outdoors

Pearle Howell has taught at Fairview Outdoor Education Center for 16 years

Pearle Howell has taught at Fairview Outdoor Education Center for 16 years

November 10, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note: There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like ...

Pearle Howell

Age: 50-something

Occupation: Teacher at Fairview Outdoor Education Center

Hometown: Prince Edward Island, Canada

Where would you see Howell? For 16 years, Howell has been on staff at the Fairview Outdoor Education Center near Clear Spring. Fairview is run by the Washington County Board of Education, and is best known for the residential outdoor education program it provides for all county fifth-graders.

The outdoor school was started in the 1950s at Misty Mount in the Catoctin Mountains, Howell said. In 1979, it moved to its present site, and is one of several outdoor centers around the state.


The fifth-grade students spend four days and three nights at the education center, where they study environmental subjects such as forestry, geology, animal identification and orienteering in 2 1/2-hour segments. They learn the importance of team building and map skills, and for the past four years, technology has been an added focus, Howell said.

In addition, there are programs for all students - kindergarten through 12th grade - as well as staff development. In the summer, Fairview is a site for a statewide program for gifted and talented students.

Howell, who has an undergraduate degree in geography and earth science from the University of Guelph in Ontario and a master's degree in environmental biology from Hood College in Frederick, Md., teaches the geology segment. She has worked in Canada as a soil surveyor and for a geology firm, run a tree farm in Iowa with her husband, David Howell, and worked for the National Park Service at Gettysburg, Pa., before taking the job at Fairview.

Howell's favorite aspects of teaching at the outdoor center are working in the outdoor environment and the diversity of students and ages she works with.

Howell teaches the geology program called "Rock & Roll." Students learn about weathering and erosion through an indoor activity, then head onto the grounds in groups in search of different rock formations.

While on their hunt, the groups photograph the rocks for use in a PowerPoint presentation. Students learn about the limestone and sandstone rocks on the property, as well as the two fault zones that Fairview is situated on.

Howell reminds them how important the geology of the county is, that geologists come here to study it and that college textbooks make reference to it.

"The teaching element has changed because of technology," Howell said. "We're very up-to-date with technology."

For example, students learn how to use a global positioning system (GPS) during the orienteering portion. Students who have the aquatics component use a video microscope to make a movie on the computer of their findings.

There also is an effort to include more detailed processing of information by the student groups and more student action projects, where the students put the new knowledge of the environment into action. The compost project, where table waste from the dining hall is sorted for the compost bin, and rain gardens and erosion gardens are such projects.

There are four teachers on staff, including one who was added this year because the county's growing population means bigger class sizes in schools and at Fairview.

Hobbies: Howell and her husband of 34 years both enjoy the outdoors. They met in college in Canada - she was an undergraduate student, and he was working on his master's degree in soil science.

They have taught a course in earth science as adjunct faculty at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Md., since 1984, and recently took their class on a fossil hunting field trip.

David Howell changed careers, went to Gettysburg Seminary and now is a Lutheran pastor of a three-point parish. They live in Myersville, Md., and have two adult sons.

The couple enjoys skiing and cycling, and take their church youth group skiing and cycling in Western Maryland every year. Pearle Howell likes to do wood carvings, often choosing birds as her subject.

What does Howell like best about Washington County? Howell likes that it's easy for her to get to Fairview from her Myersville home. Having grown up on a farm on Prince Edward Island in Canada, she also likes that Washington County still is rural. She said Frederick County was more rural when she and her family moved there in 1986.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, call Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or send an e-mail to

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