Schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore are experiencing difficulties being green, such as Kermit the Frog.
Baltimore-area schools are doing their best, though, to transform the landscapes and practices on campuses to find ways to embrace Pope Francis leadership for a seven-year journey toward Integral Ecology that he announced in his encyclical letter Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.
Among the seven goals of the popes are: Responding to the cry for the Earth; ecological sustainability, as well as education and engagement in the ecological community. School administrators and educators are adding curriculum to improve infrastructure, often driven by the passions of their students.
Notre Dame Preparatory School, Towson, offers students hands-on environmental awareness through an Advanced Placement course in environmental science with a new service-learning component.
NDP started offering a course in fall that focuses on the destruction of biodiversity due to pollution and development. Students are responsible for stream and natural habitat restoration. They also examine water quality and invasive species.
Rusty Kahl, chairman of the NDP science department, said the popes mission dovetails with the School Sisters of Notre Dames mission to educate young women to transform the world.
NDP students combine coursework with a service component, Kahl stated. He assisted the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability in fish counts at Cromwell Valley Park.
Kahl stated that NDP already had litter pick-up programs in neighbouring green spaces. The students are enthusiastic about the hands on part. The pope seems concerned about the care of creation. We are trying to teach our students how to make society better. We teach them to advocate locally and globally for change.
Alex Brylske, from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Essex led a project that transformed school grounds and parish grounds. He is now the leader of a campaign for an outdoor classroom.
Brylske is well-versed in the challenges of channeling both environmental consciousness as storm-water runoff.
It takes time to achieve it, says Brylske, who was a Mount Carmel student for 14 years and has been a teacher and athletic director over the past decade. Nature is nature. It takes time.
Mount Carmel has seen the results of environmental transformation. Gunpowder Valley Conservatory provided grants and guidance to help the school and church install two rain gardens, six retention pools, and one bayscape. They also planted 10 native trees in a project that began in 2018.
The gardens and the ponds are a way to reduce runoff as well as serving as living environmental classrooms. Mount Carmel’s recent push to build an outdoor classroom is an example of this. Children can interact with the butterflies and tadpoles, as well as birds, that Brylske stated are attracted to places that were once considered potential mosquito ponds.
The church will also use the outside classroom as a meditative area.
Brylske was raised near Bowleys Quarters’s water and understands the importance of a healthy environment. The avid hiker, sailor, and author of Mount Carmel said it is in a unique place to promote the pope’s mission.
He said, “We were just a stones throw away from the Chesapeake Bay.” These items help make the message more memorable. It is a key component for our teachers to have the ability to use the outdoor space to communicate that message.
Colleen Guler at The Catholic High School of Baltimore is the moderator of The Green School Club and the chairperson of The social studies department. She has witnessed the East Baltimore school’s mission to care for the environment in action.
Guler said that it is a Franciscan school and has been ingrained in the school as a part of our mission. It’s something the students love to do. They come up with all the ideas, and it is my job to moderate.
Baltimore City recently stopped offering recycling collections to institutions. Students jumped into action. Catholic High students found other ways to recycle the recyclables that were piling up due to the pandemic.
Students have also visited other schools to show PowerPoint projects about environmentally responsible water use. They have held fundraisers to support water projects in Haiti, Africa, and also installed an outdoor classroom as well as a bio-retention pool. Students have also planted bay grasses, and helped to create artificial reefs at Chesapeake Bay.
They even preach their elders by producing a newsletter about greener practices that is sent home to parents.
Lent is a busy time of the year for the green club, which hosts Free Fridays. Each week, Lent is a time when students try to rid their campus of any ecological detriment. Club members eat waste-free meals, limit the use of disposable bottles, reduce paper waste, and reduce the use unnatural light.
Gruler stated that he would like to see more from us, such as getting rid of plastic bottles from vending machines. The key is to teach sustainable environmental practices. It’s the students who do that.
Focus on sustainability
It’s also a collective effort to promote the pope’s mission at local colleges. Loyola University Maryland has recently revealed several initiatives to promote Pope Francis’ environmental cause.
The North Baltimore campus created a climate-action and energy management plan and built a new green facility, Miguel B. Fernandez Family Center. The university also sponsors a community-focused farmers market and several other environmental-education initiatives.
Tracy Harvey, Loyola’s new director of sustainability, stated that Loyola wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. The school also wants to increase its use of sustainable energy. Loyola has also started a pilot program for reducing food waste and plastic waste.
Harvey said that there’s still a lot of work ahead. We have many champions already to rally campus around this effort. Students are passionate about sustainability. We’re trying to integrate academics, research, administration.
Harvey stated that the university’s goal was to foster what the pope called eco-spirituality. She mentioned that Loyola has a campus on nearly 80 acres, and is a certified arboretum.
Harvey stated that there is a lot happening on campus, and that students are excited about it. Harvey spoke of Loyola’s sustainability management degree.
Email Gerry Jackson at gjackson@CatholicReview.org
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