• Accokeek Foundation

How the Accokeek Foundation is Supporting Teachers and Students in Making the World a Better Place

by Ashley Thompson, Director of Education and Interpretation

“Trees are nature for all of us.” – First Grader, Montpelier Elementary School

6am, Wednesday morning.

Shovel and containers in hand, I walk into my backyard on a mission: to find examples of healthy and unhealthy soil. This has to be done in the early morning, because I’m taking these soil samples to an elementary school and really, the fresher the better. I find a good chunk of dry, light brown, compacted dirt near a regular walking path and dig it up. I steal a scoop of the soft, damp, rich earth from a garden bed. I’m ready, and on my way to visit a first grade class at Montpelier Elementary School in Laurel, MD.

Two weeks ago these students visited the National Colonial Farm for our Eco-Explorers: Colonial Time Warp program, where they explored the differences between their lives and the lives of Maryland colonists in the 18th century, and considered the environmental cost of those differences. Why does it matter if we use disposable plastic water bottles instead of reusable canteens, or electric lights instead of candles? At the end of the field trip, we ask every student: “Using what you’ve learned, how can you save the planet?” And now these six- and seven-year-olds are ready to do just that, by planting native trees on their school grounds. First, though, we need to discuss the basics:

“What do trees need to live?”

We cover air, sunlight, water. We talk about how we need to eat healthy food and live in a healthy environment so we can grow big and strong, and our trees need the same thing. I pull out the containers of healthy and unhealthy soil and ask the kids to guess which is which. This causes some difficulty and they finally agree on the box of soil that has grass growing in it and no insects or worms crawling around. (It happens to be the unhealthy sample!)

“That’s such a good guess! Now let’s talk about how we can really use science to tell if the soil is healthy.”

  1. Just because a plant is growing in the soil doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Plants can grow a little in unhealthy soil, just like people grow if they eat unhealthy food. Also, some plants do really well in unhealthy soil!