Grown-ups may think 1,000 worms squirming in a narrow courtyard garden at Daniels Run Elementary sounds icky. But, Daniels Run students will not only squeal delightfully at the sight of the worms, they will tell the grown-ups that they feed the 1,000 worms eggshells and leftover cafeteria scraps so the worms can create six gallons of castings, or worm poop, for their school gardens.
“They love it,” said Lori Huberman, Daniels Run Elementary’s science technology resource teacher. “I think with kids nowadays, they don’t get the opportunity to get in the dirt. They’ve responded so positively.”
The worm feeding is a part of a program called "My Roommates are a Bunch of Worms." That program is part of a greater school-wide curriculum designed and implemented by school teachers, the environmental group EcoStewards Alliance and Fairfax City. The curriculum, which aims to support both the Chesapeake Bay Alliance and Standards of Learning objectives, also includes the creation of rain gardens throughout the school campus.
Indeed, the school recently received a boost to expanding the curriculum, with last week’s rewarding of a $30,000 grant by the National Fish and Wildlife Federation to build and implement its watershed protection program curriculum. The classes and projects will teach students of all grade levels about stream bank restoration, wetlands, buffer zone restoration, soil restoration and stormwater management.
“When the students become aware [of the issues] at the grammar school level, they become problem-solving,” said Jeanette Stewart, who designed much of the curriculum. Stewart is director of education and BayScaping for EcoStewards Alliance.
The environmental curriculum began two years ago, when Huberman had heard about EcoStewards Alliance and their worm feeding program through Adrian Fremont, Fairfax City’s engineer. When Daniels Run Elementary implemented the program, the students responded so well that they would pick up worms lying on sidewalks after rainstorms, and place them onto nearby grass.
“The idea was to bring environmental solutions to problems,” Huberman said.
“Through that presentation, they heard about animal habitat environmental awareness.”
Another program, which started this past school year, looks at stormwater management. ‘Happenings in our Habitat’ had the school’s 120 sixth graders learn about impervious surfaces and the need to capture and retain stormwater through rain gardens. Students and teachers helped make the rain garden, while the city provided materials and some labor.
“It’s a nice team effort between the school, EcoStewards Alliance and the city,” Fremont said.
Students also discovered that the rain gardens provide some habitat to insects and small animals. Next year’s fourth graders will learn about soil erosion through the rain gardens.
“Already we’ve seen butterflies come and a frog,” said Stewart.
With the recent grant award, Daniels Run Elementary will be a demonstration site for implementing Chesapeake Bay and environmentally-friendly curriculum at a larger scale. Huberman and Stewart hope to have a project for every grade level. In addition to rain gardens, the projects would include the creation of pollinator gardens and stabilizing stream vegetation using the stream at Daniels Run as a reference.
“I think kids at this age are very sensitive to their surroundings, to animals, and to caring for our environment,” Huberman said.