If you have school-aged children, you may have noticed that this generation is learning about our environment differently than their predecessors. Environmental studies, or “ecology” to some, isn’t just a science elective class anymore. With twenty percent of schools certified as Green Schools, Maryland is a leader in integrating environment studies into all grade levels and curricula. Located in Baltimore, Roland Park Country School’s “Peace on Earthbench” is an A+ example of how Maryland’s next generation is learning about our planet. That’s good, because they’ll be saving it.
In 2011, Maryland became the first state to require high schoolers to graduate “environmentally literate.” The Class of 2015 is the first to complete a “comprehensive environmental education program that meets the Maryland Environmental Literacy Curriculum Standards by graduation.” The non-profit Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education has been instrumental in guiding Maryland’s 2,220 schools to provider “green” education with its Green School Certification program. With over 480 certified Green Schools, Maryland’s kids are learning about sustainability, population growth, limited natural resources, climate change, and environmental health issues in art, language arts, science and math.
If you want to see “environmental literacy” in action, check out Roland Park Country School’s (RPCS) Peace on Earthbench. Part of a worldwide movement, Earthbenches are being built around the globe and they “effectively seal trash from entering the world’s oceans and rivers while serving a clear artistic, educational, and social function.”
“It’s safe to say that every child from our pre-school to the senior class has helped build this one-of-a-kind bottle bench. Our Peace on Earthbench is our school’s visible statement supporting our eco-commitment,” explains Martha Barrs, RPCS’s Environmental Education and Sustainability Coordinator.
The bench’s building blocks are “bottle bricks,” empty plastic bottles that RPCS students stuffed with food wrapper trash. The plastic bottle bricks were then molded into a bench using clay harvested from the school’s backwoods, bamboo and natural building materials. Mosaic tiles made by the students decorate the one-of-a-kind bench.
What’s cool about the bottle bench project is that it offers a fun and hands-on project that could be integrated in many RPCS courses: Sustainable Design and Engineering, French, Arabic, Russian, and Advanced Placement Art History. Girls from kindergarten to the 12th grade completed bottle bench activities in their science, math, art, and language arts classes.
What’s challenging about an entire school building an Earthbench is the coordination and expertise needed to manage so many student builders. That’s where the non-profit Harvest Collective proved invaluable. Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, Harvest Collective’s mission is to help youth develop a deeper connection to their food, community, health and habitat. While RPCS 4th and 5th grade classes and teachers led the all-school project, the Harvest Collective provided the much-needed building know-how, key volunteers and the ever-important project plan!
Enjoy the finished Earthbench below.