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Protecting the Environment at Daniels Run

School partners with environmental nonprofit to get real-life education on the environment.

Daniels Run Elementary's gardens are not only neat and attractive, but environmentally friendly. A hillside of soft grass replaces the turf grass that was once planted there, and purple cone and cardinal flower plants await forthcoming blossoms to satisfy hungry bees.

Students planted the gardens not only to beautify school grounds, but to educate themselves and others on how certain native plants and gardening techniques can benefit the local environment. They have discovered what they can do in their own back yards to ensure a healthy natural habitat.

“I think it’s great. The kids get involved in the project and more in tune with their environment,” said Selia Reyes-Smith, a Daniels Run fifth-grade teacher and parent of two Daniels Run students.

Reyes-Smith is talking about a partnership in environmental education between the school and EcoStewards Alliance, an environmental preservation nonprofit based in Burke. This past Sunday, Daniels Run Elementary, together with EcoStewards Alliance, revealed to parents and the wider community the culmination of their collaboration, which has included the creation of several landscaping projects at the school.

SIXTH GRADERS served as tour guides to the elementary school’s landscaping projects, which all aimed at preserving the natural habitat at the area. Next to the projects are signs describing why the projects help preserve the natural or wildlife habitat.

The collaboration, which has been going on since 2001, has been an effort to introduce school children to caring for the environment. Daniels Run, a pilot school for the curriculum established by EcoStewards Alliance, worked with the nonprofit on two facets of environmental education: “Sharing Our Space” watershed education and the “BayScaping” program which focuses on landscaping techniques that restore local watersheds and the Chesapeake Bay.

“These Earth-centered environmental lessons give the students an opportunity to understand the impact of human development on natural areas,” said Daniels Run principal Kathy Mullenix in a release.

In implementing the program, the various grades concentrated different projects to improve the environment at Daniels Run. Kindergarteners made suet feeders for birds and woodpeckers, while first graders planted annual rye grass seed on a school hill. The rye grass holds the soil in place, thus preventing soil erosion.

Second graders made a log pile as a home for small mammals and snakes, and third graders planted a pollinator garden. Fourth graders made a rain garden and replaced the turf grass on a school hill with native hillside grass.

Sixth graders learned about watersheds and pollution within the Chesapeake Bay. All students heard about what the other grades were doing through the school’s morning news program.

“Everybody had a part,” said science and technology resource teacher Lori Huberman Hayes, the teacher responsible for implementing the curriculum with EcoStewards Alliance.

Huberman Hayes added that the curriculum also complies with guidelines within the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

“They’ve taken not only these objectives for the SOLs, they have this feeling that they’re making a difference,” Hayes said.

AS STUDENTS conducted tours for parents and Fairfax residents on Sunday, they said they were enthusiastic about the projects and the lessons that they had learned.

“I think it’s a real step up from what it was. It really helped the animals and the water flow,” said sixth grader Arzoo Hassan, referring to the Daniels Run landscape. “I learned that the Chesapeake Bay is in a really bad state, and I learned how we can help it, how we can help the animals, by changing.”

Fellow sixth grader Katie McGuire agreed with her classmate.

“It’s fun at the same time to be part of helping the environment and the Chesapeake Bay,” Katie said.

Later that afternoon, the students and EcoStewards Alliance also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the nonprofit, with talks and a picnic following the student-led tours.

“I have no doubt that getting these kids out of the classroom and involved with BayScaping on the school grounds reinforces what they are learning and has a lasting positive impact on them and the watershed,” said Jeannette Stewart, director of education and BayScaping for EcoStewards Alliance.

Even after Sunday, the partnership will continue after this school year ends. Both will work on restoring the stream bank at the Daniels Run stream and creating a reparian buffer.

"Many of the schools are like Daniels Run, where the grounds have turf grass and some ornamental shrubs" Stewart said. "...We have a lot of space to go into our schools and teach about BayScaping and [the] watershed."