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Eco-Buddies in Training

They’ll create school monarch gardens 

Sarah Lank

    Deep in the woods of Millersville, 10 volunteers surrounded a sprawling, lush-green monarch garden. Insect life teemed among towering milkweed plants. A black swallowtail butterfly fluttered down, landing atop a green milkweed to spread its wings.

    The disparate 10 had gathered to learn how to grow monarch gardens at local elementary schools.

    The crowd of volunteers broke apart, each of them staring in fascination at the wide garden and its inhabitants. 

    The Anne Arundel County Office of Environmental Literacy and Outdoor Education is teaching these community members, one two-hour session at a time, to rejuvenate neglected elementary school gardens.

     “We’re very confident,” said Katy Clemes, co-leader of Eco-buddies at the Arlington Echo headquarters. “We believe having volunteers assigned to schools will improve the condition of the gardens.”

     Teaching children the importance of the environment and nature is a half-century-old mission in the county. Since 2011, environmental literacy is required learning for students from kindergarten to high school. Eco-buddies is the latest of seven related programs.

     Trained eco-buddies will help kindergartners plant trees near their school, plus maintain the monarch gardens for first-graders to study.

     “If they learn about the environment, they will learn to care about it,” Clemes said. “They will make choices in their lives to help protect it.”

    The volunteers are eager to get to work. Many have raised gardens. Kathy Jovan, 60, used to work at Pasadena Elementary, where she maintained a now-deteriorated monarch garden.

     She wants students to see more, this time.

     “They will learn to respect the environment, and what needs to be done to preserve the earth,” she said.

     Volunteers help at 36 of the county’s 83 schools, with some taking on more than one school. It will continue to expand.

     “This helps make the monarch program more sustainable,” said co-leader Sarah Lank as the training ended. Students will “get outdoors and connected to nature.”