When we think of education, we often envision tidy rows of desks, children clad in peter pan collars, and teachers standing at the front of the room lecturing next to a chalk board. However, learning is not contained to climate-controlled classrooms. Sometimes the most exhilarating, impactful learning happens outside the confines of desks, power-point slides, and workbooks. Often, it simply happens outside.
We can encourage success for students with diverse learning styles by offering more out-of-classroom opportunities. I sat down with Betsy Love on a shady bench at St. Luke’s Restoration of Nature in Eastport, MD to discuss one of these opportunities. In 2018, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church worked with Underwood & Associates to complete a vast stormwater management and restoration project that created a stream and sculpted a living shoreline at tidewater. Betsy Love spearheaded this effort as her capstone project for the Watershed Stewards Academy. Thanks to the hard work of Betsy and many others, St. Luke’s campus is now alive with pollinators buzzing around native plants, herons stalking the shallows along the sandy shoreline, and a gurgling clean stream occupied by amphibians and fish.
On that balmy, late-spring day Betsy explained to me that before the pandemic the educational campus was active with students walking the trails, using microscopes to study water samples, and learning about the restoration. Volunteers from the community, the church, the Master Gardeners program, and midshipmen from the Naval Academy assisted with invasive-species management and native planting volunteer days. The Watershed Stewards Academy used the campus for meetings and events. As children return to school and the country begins to awaken after a long pandemic slumber, Betsy hopes that groups and individuals will once again return to the St. Luke’s campus.
All are welcome and encouraged to visit St. Luke’s and use the trails, which are open from dawn to dusk to the public. There are educational signs around the property to explain project features and nature facts. This incredible natural area and educational resource is right in Annapolis’ backyard, just waiting for schools, scout troops, families, and non-profits to take advantage of it.
Betsy and I stood up to stretch our legs and walk the length of the blooming, 3-year-old project. We paused at Betsy’s favorite native plant, Chionanthus virginicus, (commonly referred to as fringe tree) to admire the airy, white clusters of flowers while Betsy expressed her desire to see St. Luke’s Restoration of Nature reach its full potential as an educational campus. She dreams of making the campus more accessible to youth from underserved communities who may not otherwise have access to opportunities to recreate, learn about their watershed, and become ambassadors to help maintain the project. She envisions fostering a connection to nature, providing quiet places where students can come read or walk, and sparking ownership and pride so students can take their families here and show off the great blue herons, frogs, and peaceful trails. Although Anne Arundel County has over 500 miles of shoreline, access to the water can be limited for many people. Much of the waterfront is private and many green spaces and parks are often in communities with private beaches and docks. For those who do not live in water-privileged communities, finding waterfront areas to recreate and relax can be challenging. Equal access to the outdoors is severely limited, but St. Luke’s hopes to play a role in changing that. Opportunities abound at St. Luke’s for the public to enjoy nature and the waterfront, and to inspire students outside of the classroom at this unique sanctuary in the city.
St. Luke’s formed an Education Committee to help move ideas into action for the educational campus. This restored piece of the wild in such a highly urbanized area is a true treasure that should not be underutilized or underappreciated. If your students, community, non-profit, or group would like to use St. Luke’s educational campus, be sure to reach out to St. Luke’s directly to discuss opportunities.
Environmental education can happen on a family hike through the sun dappled woods, lying in a backyard with chin in hands studying an emerging cicada, or by a neighborhood stream overturning rocks to search for stoneflies. St. Luke’s is not only for the wildlife and the water quality, it’s for the people. Take your family, take your students, take your dog, or take yourself and enjoy the beauty, peace, and health of a restored ecosystem.