Equipped with rubber boots and nets, more than 50 Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) science and special education teachers have been wading through streams testing water chemistry and searching for macroinvertebrates.

CCPS teachers are exploring the environment to learn what their students will actually do through a program called Bridging the Watershed. CCPS started the program last school year with the Alice Ferguson Foundation through a Chesapeake Bay Trust grant. This year, CCPS is able to expand and extend the program through a three-year $343,854 matching grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Professional development is just one part of the grant that also funds three science units and supplies. Seventh-grade science and high school biology and earth science students at all CCPS middle and high schools are included in the program. Tim Emhoff, environmental resource teacher, estimates between 5,500 and 6,000 students will participate annually.

“We want students to understand how their day-to-day life affects the environment,” Emhoff said. “Bridging the Watershed is a program that enables teachers to get their students out of the classroom to do field studies.”

CCPS applied for the grant to meet Maryland’s environmental literacy graduation requirements. The goal is to enable all students to graduate with the knowledge and skills to protect and restore their local watershed. Environmental literacy is essential, according to a multi-state Chesapeake Bay Watershed agreement. “The well-being of the Chesapeake Bay watershed will soon rest in the hands of its youngest citizens—the more than three million students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Establishing strong, targeted environmental education programs now provides a vital foundation for these future watershed stewards,” according to the agreement.

NOAA’s Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program funds authentic and practical lessons for students that include learning both outdoors and in the classroom. The goal is to increase student understanding of watersheds and related ecosystems. B-WET serves seven areas, including the Chesapeake Bay region, which includes Charles County.

CCPS has a number of community partners supporting the program. The Alice Ferguson Foundation is a primary partner in the development of the project. CCPS is also working with the Port Tobacco River Conservancy, Mattawoman Creek Watershed Society, Charles County Department of Parks and Recreation and master gardeners and naturalists.

The federal portion of the three-year grant is $311,954.85, with the Alice Ferguson Foundation and CCPS providing the non-federal match of $31,900. The Foundation is supplying buses and transportation, and CCPS is providing oversight and management of the program.

NOAA, the Alice Ferguson Foundation and CCPS will celebrate the creation of the Bridging the Watershed program during an event at 8:30 a.m., Nov. 6 at St. Charles High School. Officials will highlight the importance of the program before observing students and teachers engaged in a hands-on lesson at the school.