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Whitman Middle Students Tackle Park Project

Hemlock Overlook Park benefits from their labors.

Hemlock Overlook Regional Park has had a boost to its environmental program, thanks to some 46 National Junior Honor Society students from Walt Whitman Middle School.

“Whitman Middle School National Junior Honor Society is a repeat client at Hemlock Overlook,” said Sue Czarnetzky, scheduling coordinator, Hemlock Overlook. “Their time with us, in addition to participating in our Team Development Course, has included spending the night and completing a community service project the following morning."

Czarnetzky said that the service project they completed this year has been entitled “Project Mulch.”

“It is a repeat project — one that needs to occur both spring and fall here at Hemlock Overlook,” Czarnetzky said. “We have offered Whitman Middle School the opportunity to take 'ownership' of this project in the spring of each year. Both the principal and the sponsor have agreed to do this. It is truly a win-win situation for both Hemlock Overlook and Whitman Middle School.”

“In three hours, we did the work that would have taken 20 staff people an entire year to finish and 25,000 people who visit Hemlock will benefit from our Service Project,” said Sally Gonzalez, one of the students.

Kat Brewster said, “We had a really awesome motivating leader named Jeremy,” while Danielle Horne thought it was fun to work with everyone in a large group like that.

“It really helped us get to know each other through the leadership course but especially through working on this project together all working to accomplish a single goal,” said Kiley Sheehy, student.

WHITMAN MIDDLE School is only one of three schools in the county that has incorporated the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IBMYP), which is a comprehensive, in depth course of study for students in grades six through ten. It provides a specific academic framework in eight content areas.

The IBMYP is based on five overarching themes, called Areas of Interaction. The Five Areas of Learning are, specifically, Approaches to Learning, Community and Service, Homo faber (Man and Maker), Health and Physical Education and the Environment.

Whitman’s Team Development Program and the Community Service Project relates to all five Interaction Areas and accomplishes the following:

* Safeguard the Popes Head Creek watershed. This watershed is home to the Audubon Naturalist Society’s Webb Sanctuary and Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s Hemlock Overlook Park. Popes Head Creek is a major tributary of Bull Run and the Occoquan River, which provides drinking water to more than half of Fairfax County.

* Provide students immediate reinforcement of skills learned during the Team Development Course. In a period of 3 to 4 hours, they distributed and spread mulch sufficient enough to fill two 18 wheel tractor trailer trucks.

* Provide a safer environment by cushioning the trails and the areas surrounding the challenge course elements utilized by some 25,000 people who participate in programs on a yearly basis.

* Protect the environment by holding the soil in place thus preventing erosion.

* Preserve the trees by acting as a buffer against soil compaction that would damage the root systems of our trees/surrounding undergrowth that could eventually contribute to their dying.

* Retain moisture on the forest floor thus promoting healthy root systems of the trees in the park.

* Save Hemlock Overlook thousand of dollars in labor costs thus supporting continuing efforts to offer reasonably priced educational programs.