Standing Up for the Environment and Green Schools

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Erik Saderholm

Anna Saderholm spent much of her early educational days in the outdoors and learning about our environment through valuable experiences, including growing baby oysters with CBF in the 4th grade. Recently, she reflected on her journey from environmentally conscious child to advocating for green education in the Maryland General Assembly.

I’ve been advocating for the environment since I was a kid. In the second or third grade I wrote a letter to the school bemoaning our recycling program and asking for better sorting and access to composting. I still have that letter; I want to get it framed so I can point to it and say, “that’s when I started my environmental advocacy.” Advocating for anything is hard, it takes a lot of time and care, but I think it’s well worth it. I love environmental advocacy; I want everyone to be an environmental advocate even if it’s just letting someone know that their takeout container definitely isn’t recyclable.

Advocating for a bill can look different for every person who gets involved. Sending letters and emails, speaking to elected officials on the phone or in meetings, and sharing your personal story are just a few of the great ways you can participate in advocacy. Testifying before a legislative committee is hard, but I think everyone should do it once! Being able to look your legislators in the eye and share exactly why a bill or movement means the world to you is an incredible privilege and opportunity.

In early March, I testified on House Bill 997, which would establish criteria for designating green schools in Maryland as model professional development facilities. As an alum of a Maryland Green School, this particular bill is dear to me. Here is a copy of my letter to Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee:

I am writing in favor of HB 997 – Green Schools – Mondel Professional Development Facilities – Designation.

My name is Anna Saderholm and I’m excited to testify before your committee today and share my experience at a Maryland Green School. I attended St. Annes School of Annapolis from preschool to eighth grade, and I enjoyed the privilege of an education informed and encouraged by nature.

In the fourth grade, my classmates and I spent a school year raising oyster spat for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We learned about what makes organisms thrive, we measured turbidity and water pH, and we invented cute names for our resident oysters. In humanities we learned about the first Marylanders and how oyster shoals used to rise above the surface of the Bay, in civics we learned how our colonists began to degrade the oyster populations and how they’re still in recovery now, and in science class we learned how oysters are the beautiful and cool creatures that make our Bay work.

In second grade we studied the culture of Native Americans in Maryland and grew the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash in our playground garden. In fourth grade we read English classics and performed Shakespeare in the outdoor classroom spaces for the whole school to enjoy. In the seventh grade my classmates and I learned about buoyancy, engineering, and physics by constructing cardboard boats and racing them in the Bay off Hillsmere Shores. In eighth grade we went on a ‘swampwalk’ chest-deep in mud at an outdoor learning facility to learn how to get over our fears and work collectively towards a common goal.

My education centered on and was made better by a focus on the environment. My classmates and I spent as much time out in nature in outdoor classrooms, at the community garden, on camping trips to Chincoteague, string-fishing for crabs with chicken necks off the dock, in Quiet Waters and Patapsco parks, as we did sitting at our desks learning. My experiences in nature helped me to tie what I was learning in science to math, or humanities to civics, or art to music. Everything I learned could be tied back to hands-on experience outdoors; pea plant genetics in our garden were like ratios and cross multiplication, stress during a standardized test became calm breathing like trees’ evapotranspiration, and a conflict with a friend was resolved due to communication strategies we learned paddling a canoe together.

When I graduated and went to college I chose to major in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Maryland. My environmental education directly informed my career choices. Everytime someone asks me, “why environmental science” I tell them about my fourth grade oyster spat. My holistic, experience-based, and frankly really cool, nature education made me the person I am today.

My school was a Maryland Green School, and a model one at that. Green schoolyards are nature-filled outdoor spaces that offer students, teachers, parents, and community members places to explore, learn, and grow. These spaces are designed to meet their community’s needs and can include outdoor classrooms, native gardens, stormwater infrastructure, playgrounds, vegetable gardens, trails, trees, and more. Through green schoolyards, one can make sure that all students have access to the benefits of nature. HB 997 would establish a program to help green communities and schools learn and grow together through these model schools.

I urge this committee to vote favorably on HB 997 and ensure that every Marylander can have the opportunity to experience an education like I had.

While it’s unfortunate that HB 997 didn’t make the crossover deadline, we were able to achieve a great deal with this bill! HB 997 brought together an amazing group of involved subject matter experts, green school advocates, and passionate teachers, students like me, and principals. This group not only stuck together to discuss, consider, and imagine what green school legislation should look like, but they also educated me and everyone else present in the committee room. Educating folks is just step one, and I’m glad that this bill at least educated some wonderful folks on green schools and their importance for kids in Maryland.

This wonderful world deserves our care and affection. As people, not just those with educational experiences like mine but just humans, we have the incredible privilege of empathy. We can empathize with people losing their homes to flooding, with animals being unable to cross a road without being hurt, and with plants disappearing from our planet. In my mind, it’s impossible to separate the environment from the not-environment, and it’s even more impossible not to care. Our actions have consequences, and opportunity. Caring about the environment is just that, it’s care.

Anna Saderholm, Legislative Director/Chief of Staff at the Maryland General Assembly

Issues in this Post

Advocacy   Education  

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