- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
At a Waldorf elementary school, everything is going just ducky.
In the woods behind Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School in the Carrington neighborhood off St. Charles Parkway, 8.5 acres of man-made wetlands provide a habitat for all manner of plant and animal life. The wetlands began as a project eight years ago at the hands of Dr. Brown teacher Jack Belle, aided by his wife Peggy.
Over time, the Belles said, the wetlands have become the site of many different projects for the students and the focus of an annual science education day. Most recently, however, the Belles have undertaken the quest of relocating ducks nesting in a courtyard at William B. Wade Elementary School to the water there.
“When I began teaching here, I used to take my students out there to explore, and there looked like there was one little area that would be perfect for a pond,” Jack Belle said. “I got permission to build the pond, and the county gave us $30,000 to build it.”
Despite having county permission, Jack Belle said he needed to seek state and federal approval, given that the water eventually will flow into the Chesapeake Bay. The students would come in and clean up the area, where portable classrooms once stood.
Jack Belle and his students cleaned up a large amount of trash from behind the school before being told by federal and state officials that they could not proceed with building the proposed small pond back there. Instead, Belle said, he was given $3.5 million in funding and much more space than he had anticipated.
“There’s a little island and a pier that goes out. It’s pretty neat,” Jack Belle said, adding that it also includes a bridge connecting the island portion with the mainland. The wetlands take in the runoff from the neighborhood and filter the water of sediment and some nutrients before sending the remainder into the Potomac River and then to the bay.
From cradle to grave, Peggy Belle said, the students have helped shape the wetlands into what they are.
“The kids planted everything themselves,” Peggy Belle said. “They planted thousands and thousands of plants. They’d go out in their wading boots and go in and plant everything.”
Last month, when the Belles, aided by Dr. Brown teacher Allison Whistler and Wade instructional assistant Lisa Hasz, moved the first brood of ducks, there were more than 30 to round up into a wire cage and transport across the highway before getting to their final destination. Last week, the Belles and their daughter Nancy, along with Hasz and Whistler, were at it again, this time for a much smaller brood.
The group met at Wade on Friday morning, prepared to round the mother duck and her seven ducklings up for the move. For the first move, Jack Belle had constructed a small wooden enclosure, and the group would get the ducks in there by placing food and water inside of it.
The first time, Jack Belle said, everything went swimmingly. The second time, the group was not so fortunate. Upon being wrangled into the cage used to transport them, a cage usually used to house mid-size dogs, all the ducklings wriggled through the cracks and made their break for freedom. This sent the mother duck into a conniption, flapping her wings wildly and screeching from the cage for her babies. Eventually, all the ducklings returned to the wooden pen. While the fowl cowered in the corner of the pen, the group covered the cage in netting that would prevent any further escape antics. Once the cage was secured, the ducks were chased into it with brooms and locked in.
Upon their arrival at Dr. Brown, summer school students came to watch the ducklings be released into the water for the first time. The students watched in awe as the ducks ran toward the water, experiencing for the first time the habitat they were always meant to inhabit.
Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), who had addressed Dr. Brown students about renewable energy projects before he was a commissioner as part of the school’s science curriculum, said he feels that having the wetlands behind the school provides the students with an inimitable opportunity for learning.
“The educational value of creating it is invaluable for the kids,” Robinson said Monday. “I admire the school for taking this on. I was at one of the high school graduations and had a student come up to me and say that they remembered me from when I spoke there. That was really gratifying. I think that [the wetlands] garners a respect for nature and not paving over it. The kids just love this stuff, and they’re much more in tune now with the environment than people from previous generations. I think that eventually the term ‘environmentalist’ will eventually go away because it will just become the standard.”
Former Dr. Brown principal Marvin Jones, who the Belles said was instrumental in establishing the project, could not be reached for comment.