Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Repairing and Using the Environment

Dana McCauley, Crellin Elementary in Garrett County Public Schools, Maryland

Story posted April, 2008

• Restoration of community land
• Recognition by various local and national agencies for important environmental work

An environmental project more likely to have been spearheaded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency than elementary school students led to Garrett County Public Schools in rural western Maryland receiving the National Civic Star Award for 2008.

The project, known as Crellin Elementary Corps of Discovery, evolved after students at a 2003 science camp noticed orange water seeping from a playground area into a stream known as Snowy Creek near the school property. The seepage was acid mine drainage from water flowing under coal and mine waste that had been spilled and left on the site when Crellin had been a coal mining town from about 1925 to 1960.

Crellin is in the central Appalachian Mountain where pristine streams and beautiful scenery are typical and where much of the land is part of state and federal preserves. Garrett County is also the site of Deep Creek Lake, a popular resort destination.

Crellin Elementary is a Title I school with only 85 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Seventy-eight percent of the students receive free or reduced-price meals. Despite its small size, the size is central to the community.

In addition to the seepage problem, the property adjacent to the school contained a slag pile of mining waste and a garbage dump. An old playground adjoining the property was used by adults and teenagers at night, making it necessary for such items as drug-related syringes to be removed in the mornings before students could use the playground safely.

After the camp students discovered the seepage, Crellin Elementary Principal Dana McCauley enlisted the help of an acquaintance, Gary Yoder with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Yoder contacted Joe Mills of the Maryland Bureau of Mines; the project picked up steam, and additional partnerships evolved.

Solutions to the acid mine drainage and property included neutralizing the orange seepage after researching and identifying the source, acquiring the property and cleaning and restoring it. The playground would be redeveloped with a local history theme researched by students and the old equipment replaced. The effort ultimately involved 650 volunteers, several state and federal agencies, the county commission and board of education, Garrett Community College, Deep Creek Design Studio, Elkridge Nature Works, Youghiogheny Watershed Association, Garrett County Community Action, DelSignore Foundation, Canaan Valley Institute and Leather & Associates Inc.

"Crellin Elementary no longer exists only within our school walls," said the school's principal, Dana McCauley. "Our entire community has become our classroom. The school, community and environment are intertwined to provide learning opportunities for students. The collaboration that has occurred among the school, families, project partners and community has given our students a real sense of being part of something larger, of making a difference in their community."

The environmental project was led by Crellin's principal and staff. Partners in the project played a variety of roles.

The Canaan Valley Institute helped develop curriculum, grant proposals and lessons in oral history. The Bureau of Mines provided a $100,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant for the treatment of the coal seepage and creation of the environmental education lab. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources provided professional development and guidance for the creation of the lab while providing instruction for students. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided trees, shrubs and help in planning the outdoor lab.

The Garrett County Commission donated the land to the Board of Education, and the Board of Education provided personnel, funding and support for the initiative. Garrett Community College provided staff development and student instruction on the riparian areas.

Deep Creek Design Studio collaborated with Leathers & Associates Inc. on the playground project and prepared the design for the lab.

In addition to the benefit of the community of the land reclamation, students gained an invaluable opportunity to work under professional guidance on the project.

The environmental education program developed as parents, school administrators, teachers, concerned community members and local and state agencies became involved in trying to address the environmental problems. The process of student exploration for the origin of the acid mine drainage led to the oral history program that served as the basis for the students' design for a historically themed playground.

Garrett2.jpgThe restoration project included adding soil and native vegetation back to the stream area, which become the Crellin Environmental Education Laboratory. The lab serves as a resource to educate students and community members and provides a location for community recreation.

The project has received significant recognition, including a merit award for environmental work from the Garrett County Commission. It was also recognized through a published summary by the Youghiogheny Watershed Association and Canaan Valley Institute. The school received an environmental citation from the Woodmen of the World and a Green School Award from the governor of Maryland. The school superintendent, principal, staff, students and parents attended a presentation of a meritorious proclamation by the Maryland Legislature. Students also received the Presidential Environmental Youth Award at the U.S. Capitol.

Crellin Elementary leaders plan to continue to use the environmental lab as a key teaching tool with students and the community.

This story came to LFA's attention as the winner of the 2008 National Civic Star Award, presented by the American Association of School Administrators and Sodexo School Services.

Story reprinted by permission of Sodexo School Services and the American Association of School Administrators, 2008.

For additional information about this story, please contact:
Dana McCauley
Principal, Crellin Elementary

Further details about Crellin Elementary's environmental education can be found at:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "2006 President's Environmental Youth Awards"

The Republican, currently available at Canaan Valley Institute, "Crellin Students Put Trout into Creek, Take Away Environmental Lessons", April 16, 2006

Photos courtesy of Crellin Elementary and the National Civic Star Award