Despite this year's challenges, we remain steadfast, persistent, and focused on our mission to Save the Bay. From CBF staff and volunteers to advocates, teachers, and students, We the Watershed are finding innovative ways to carry on our important work for clean water. Find these stories and more in our Fall/Winter issue of Save the Bay magazine.
When Hemalatha Bhaskaran runs into her former students, the conversation usually heads in a familiar direction. It’s not about the principles they learned in her environmental science classes at James M. Bennett High School in Wicomico County, Maryland, but rather the times they spent learning outside, exploring the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“My students smile and laugh, they run like crazy when I take them outdoors,” she says. “Sometimes, they don’t want to get muddy because they wore their best shoes, but I make them do mud mucking. They get so excited after that—or the first time a kid sees a turtle in the seine net. Those moments are so priceless.”
This fall, school will look starkly different for thousands of students across the watershed. Many are learning virtually, from home, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Teachers like Bhaskaran are on the front lines. This year, she was awarded the 2019 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching, the highest honor given by the U.S. government for K–12 teachers, and was also named the 2020–2021 Wicomico Teacher of the Year.
“It is always inspiring to see how gifted all of the students are and how hopeful they are,” she says. “Sometimes, we as adults need to sit back and not let our biases influence what [students] can do. Every child is positive. Every child is hopeful. We need to give them space to shine.”
She remembers a lesson she assigned last year, asking students to design a community that reduced water pollution.
“I brought their projects home and my husband saw them. He said, ‘Look, your kids, they see a solution for every single problem.’ We as adults start finding a lot of problems with the solutions, but the students know what the solutions are, and they make it work.”
Bhaskaran worries about her students missing the hands-on, outdoor component of environmental education. But she also sees promising progress in the work of teacher groups like CBF’s Teacher Environmental Literacy Leaders (TELL) network and Teachers on the Estuary (TOTE), where she helps mentor other teachers interested in environmental literacy. She hopes that all of us adopt the endless optimism and determination of students and support educators as they navigate a new territory.