Wild Rice & The Changing Landscape of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

By May 28, 2020News

Did you know that wild rice is more than just a side dish found at dinner time? Native to the Chesapeake Bay region, wild rice is an annual grass found in freshwater marshes and has been declining in reproduction due to the increase of non-migratory waterfowl, invasive plants, and water pollution.

In 2015, Prince George’s County Public Schools Department of Curriculum and Instruction began collaborating with the William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center to engage seventh-graders from 15 different schools in restoring the wild rice growing along the Patuxent River. Educators saw an opportunity to develop a meaningful watershed educational experience (MWEE) for understanding watershed water quality issues and the decline of native species.

The MWEE model of education focuses on investigations into local environmental issues that lead to action and civic engagement. One major goal of the MWEE model is to increase student’s academic achievement, engagement, 21st Century skills (learning, digital literacy, and life skills), and stewardship. Teachers play an important role in presenting unbiased information and assisting students with their research and exploration and all lessons meet Environmental Literacy standards (ELS), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). MWEE essential elements include an issue definition, outdoor field experiences, action projects, and sharing student-developed synthesis and conclusions in coordination with the school and the local community.

With funding provided through the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Environmental Education Grant Program, students used their schoolyard to gather data related to habitat use and degradation within their watershed. Data was collected in the form of a habitat report card developed by curriculum writers and Schmidt Center staff. The report card was used by students to develop a plan for restoring habitat on school grounds and in the community as it relates to migratory birds.

Students propagated wild rice in the classroom using grow stands and/or wet beds outside on their schoolyard throughout the winter. They maintained an optimum growing environment for the plants and collected data, such as germination rates, blade length, and plant density. Students took part in investigating the environmental impact and relationship between humans and the earth’s resources while researching the characteristics of wild rice and the role it plays in benefiting wetlands and reducing pollution. During early spring, students planted their wild rice at Patuxent River Park and Accokeek Foundation and worked to develop habitat restoration awareness signage used off-site or on their school grounds.

Through this program, students were a part of an on-going restoration project of wild rice in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. They also learned about other related issues, including invasive and non-invasive species, water quality, and the Bay ecosystem. A one-day professional development session on wild rice was provided by the Schmidt Center staff to the participating schools/teachers.

These partnerships increased opportunities for students to engage in environmental action projects, moved PGCPS towards a distinguished level in establishing state partners, supported grade level thematic approaches that enhanced the implementation of Environmental Literacy standards, and integrated social studies and science content areas. As the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Education Workgroup states, “The well-being of the Chesapeake Bay watershed will one day rest in the hands of its youngest citizens.”

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