Friday, July 25, 2008

The Chesapeake Bay Program is helping turn the ground outside Tyler Elementary School in the District into an environmental haven.

The group Thursday gave the Southeast school a $50,000 donation to build a bio-retention system that will provide environmental and educational benefits and serve as a model for future projects in the city.

“Having this on-site for children is really going to make the impact,” said Peter Marx, the group’s associate director. “To provide the opportunity to learn from hands-on experience is something we really want for these kids.”

The project could be completed by May 2009 and is part of a modernization program for the entire school system.

“We are confident that schools will see significant improvements to the grounds and play areas,” said Tony Robinson, spokesman for the Office of Public Education Facilities Management.

The project essentially will put plants in place of the school’s blacktop and concrete, which instead of absorbing rainwater allows it to run into the Anacostia River.

The bio-retention system also recycles the rain.

Mr. Marx said the country has a “long history with blacktop … and we’re realizing how terrible it is.”

The Anacostia has earned the reputation as the District’s “forgotten river” because of its pollution.

However, recent efforts, including those at Tyler Elementary and by the Anacostia Watershed Society, have improved the river’s water quality.

“We could have easily done this in a parking lot, too,” said George Hawkins, director of D.C. Department of the Environment. “By doing it in a school, it becomes a green infrastructure for the school and the neighborhood.”

Mr. Hawkins said he wants to see children grow and learn from the experience, and one day educate others about what they have learned.

“Children are our best teachers because they want to spread what they’ve learned,” he said. “They learn about their project and its effect on the pollution of the Anacostia, then they can take information to a state and global level.”

School Principal Terry Dade said the project also will help teach children about environmental matters that are harder to learn in a classroom.

“What these students remember is practical experience because it’s not all taught in a classroom,” he said. “This outdoor classroom is going to bring new levels to what these children can learn.”

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