BALTIMORE – Mrs. Winkler’s fourth-grade class at Yorkwood Elementary School brimmed with enthusiasm for its substitute teacher Friday.
The students almost fell out of their chairs, leaning out and raising their hands to show off their environmental knowledge to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner, the guest teacher.
It’s just that sort of excitement about the environment that the EPA hopes to stimulate with $3 million in grants for environmental education programs across the country. Browner was at Yorkwood to announce the grants, which include $56,535 for the Irvine Natural Science Center in Baltimore County.
“Kids get it,” said Browner after seeing the students’ responses. “And they see the work, and value and understand this job of environmental protection.”
Browner spent an hour telling the students how their everyday activities can affect the environment, on issues like energy use and depletion of the ozone layer.
The grant announced Friday for the Irvine Natural Science Center in Stevenson will help fund its Natural Connections program. The program helps 1,200 students around Baltimore County — including all the fourth graders at Yorkwood — learn about plants, animals and ecological relationships within their own neighborhoods.
The Natural Connections prepares local high school students to teach about their neighborhood environment. The high schoolers then pair off to help small groups of fourth graders in programs on plants, insects, birds and soil, said program director Joe Harber.
The program offers hands-on environmental education to the children with such activities as “plant hunt,” said Harber.
“Children collect samples from as many plants as they can, and come back and sort them and name them,” he said.
Besides learning about specific parts of the plants, including leaves, vein patterns and margins, Harber said students pick up observational skills as well.
Sandra Winkler, who turned her class of eager fourth-graders over to Browner on Friday, said schools have only recently been emphasizing environmental awareness as part of the curriculum. It has worked well, she said.
“Kids not turned on in the classroom, may be turned on in the world of nature,” said Winkler, a 28-year veteran of Baltimore County public schools.
Mrs. Winkler’s students were clearly turned on by the topic Friday. Despite their age, some were already thinking about solutions to environmental problems — although they do not have the science yet to back up their grand notions.
One girl suggested to Browner that one way to fight air pollution would be to put bags on top of large smokestacks.
Browner responded, without elaborating, that the government already does “something like that.”
The $3 million in grants for environmental education that Browner announced Friday are part of President Clinton’s Back to School initiative.