Every day on my commute, I pass my local school district, Susquenita, and then the mighty Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the nation’s largest estuary—and the Susquenita school district has wetlands on its property that are directly connected to the river and the bay. This connection gave me the idea for a Green Apple Day of Service project for USGBC Central Pennsylvania.
As an environmental scientist, my husband Greg performs wetland delineations, so I decided to recruit him to lead a mock wetland delineation for students at our local school district. I also found a biology teacher at the middle school who was interested in helping me coordinate this activity for a Green Apple event.
On September 21, Greg, along with his coworker Melissa, joined me for the event at Susquenita School District. Fifteen students participated from middle and high school. We described to the students the paths of our careers in the environmental industry. Since career pathways are part of pillar three in the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools program, it was important to have that preliminary discussion.
Next, Greg and Melissa talked about why wetlands are important and how to identify them. Wetlands are not only a habitat for animals, but also a natural filtration system for water before it enters our rivers. They also help to control floods. Students learned the criteria for defining a wetland: 1) water, or signs of water; 2) hydrophytic vegetation (plants that love water), and 3) hydric soils (they show signs of being wet and without oxygen, or anoxic environments).
Armed with this knowledge, as well as site-specific plant identification guides created by Greg, the students went out onto their school property to observe a wetland firsthand. Greg and Melissa showed the students how to use an auger to dig down into the soil and observe its profile for signs of hydric soils (reddish colors, similar to rust, occur where oxygen is not present). They also helped the students identify the wetland plants and place delineation flags in the ground to identify the boundaries of the wetland.
To close out our wetland delineation, I reminded students that everything is connected in this great “circle of life”—that this wetland on their school property connects to the Susquehanna River, which is in turn part of the largest estuary in the United States. It is my hope that the students will remember our activity and how important wetlands are, motivating them to be caretakers of this planet.
Green Apple events will be occurring at K–12 schools in Central Pennsylvania through April 2018. If your company, organization or school is interested in organizing a Green Apple Day of Service event, please email Heidi Kunka or call 202.706.0836, and we’d be glad to assist.