Waldorf, MD— North Point High School was recently honored as the first National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Guardian School in Maryland. The school was officially presented with an Ocean Guardian School banner on Oct. 29 during a recognition ceremony for the school’s Ocean Guardian club and is also Charles County Public Schools’ first Ocean Guardian School. The club includes more than 30 North Point students and is sponsored by Lolita Kiorpes, a Biology teacher at the school.

As part of the club, students work together to support their local environment through hands-on and engaging experiences and activities. These activities range from protecting and conserving local watersheds and marine sanctuaries to conversation projects. Through the program, schools can apply for grant funding to help promote conservation projects. For the past two school years, North Point has received a $4,000 grant to assist with community-based conservation projects, such as planting trees and perennials native to areas at the school and field trips to Mallows Bay in Nanjemoy to study watersheds and marine life.

Samuel Orlando of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuary said the program is about teaching students how to create a connection with their environment. “Ocean Guardian activities and education provide kids with a connection to their special place whether it is here at the school or a connection to the Chesapeake Bay. It is about access, recreation, conservation and education and promoting stewardship of the environment,” Orlando said. NOAA intends to designate Mallows Bay as a National Marine Sanctuary and as part of the Ocean Guardian club activities, Kiorpes and her students have visited the area several times to study its surroundings.

Mallows Bay is located on the Potomac River and is home to the largest ship graveyard in the Western Hemisphere. The area features wildlife, fishing and boating access and a hiking trail. During their trips to Mallows Bay, students work together to test pH, or oxygen and acidity, levels of the water, to navigate canoes and to study the ecosystem. Kiorpes said students in the club not only learn from hands-on experiences, but enjoy sharing their experiences with their peers. “The students have been fabulous. They love to share what they have done. They often tell me they loved planting outside and ask me when we can do it again. It is encouraging to hear,” she said.

Several Ocean Guardian club members spoke to attendees during the Oct. 29 ceremony and highlighted their experiences. North Point senior Edward Park said he heard from a friend about a trip the club was taking to Mallows Bay and decided to attend. “It was my first canoe trip and I am glad I went. I learned so much more than I thought I would. I did not know there were so many invasive species. It was fun learning about the biodiversity of the ecosystem,” Park said. North Point senior Cameron Young talked about his experiences with the club planting trees at the school. “We spent one day planting trees outside. At the end of the day, it was amazing to look out and see hundreds of trees that you just planted. Everyone won that day,” Young said. He also talked about his experiences in Kiorpes’ classroom with raising trout and said it was hard to say goodbye to the fish when they were large enough to be released in their natural habitat.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Orlando and Christos Michalopoulos, NOAA’s deputy director for K-12 and informal education, presented the students with an official Ocean Guardian banner to hang in the school. Kiorpes said her students have enjoyed their experiences and look forward to continuing their work to promote the environment. “It’s been fun. The students have really enjoyed learning what they can do to help and getting those important hands-on experiences,” she said.

In addition to North Point, Piccowaxen Middle School received the Ocean Guardian School grant last year and J.C. Parks Elementary School recently received grant funding through the program for the 2015-16 school year. Schools can apply to participate in the program and must submit a community-based project as part of their application. Information about the program is available on the NOAA website at http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/education/ocean_guardian/application.html.