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Maryland Students “SURE” Up Resilience

May 11, 2020 | Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, Informed Citizens, Reserves, What We Work For

Somerset County high school students pose with marine debris they collected as part of Shoring Up Resilience through Education (SURE).

What does it mean for a person to be resilient? When you ask a fifth-grade Maryland student, they start with the immediate: it means they’re healthy.

“As the student keeps talking, we build it out. To be healthy, your house needs to be dry, you’re not exposed to mold and mosquitoes, you don’t have to wade across flooded roads to get to school,” says Coreen Weilminster, education coordinator at Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Reserve. “Students start to understand that to be resilient you need a healthy home, a healthy yard, a healthy community, a healthy ecosystem. And in Somerset County, that means you need healthy marshes and shorelines.”

To help local 5th, 7th, and 9th grade students better understand the connection between health, a changing climate, and the estuary in their own backyard, the Reserve, through Maryland Department of Natural Resources and other partners, developed the hands-on educational program, Shoring Up Resilience through Education (SURE).

“When you’re talking to 5th grade students, ‘climate change’ and ‘climate resilience’ are abstract terms,” says Weilminster. “SURE helps them make sense of the science behind these forces and what they can do to help ‘shore up’ their community’s future.”

The Maryland Department of Health, which provides one source of funds for SURE, identified Somerset County as an area in significant need of support. Although the county borders 1,102 miles of Chesapeake Bay—making it reliant on aquatic resources and vulnerable to coastal hazards—its school district struggles for resources and lags in environmental literacy. SURE, which started in 2017, serves all public schools in the county and now reaches more than  600 students each year.

“Helping students understand their impact on the environment requires more than a one-day field trip. It requires a concerted, ongoing effort from teachers,” says Traci Schnieder, science supervisor for Somerset County Public Schools. “SURE supports that—it prepares teachers to plan, implement, and follow through with their students.”

The program hosts teacher training and professional development days; develops instructional units on resiliency which focus on environmental topics that fit within each grade’s curriculum; sponsors student-led stewardship projects; and provides classroom and field-based experiences. These include interactions with scientists and community figures like farmers and watermen who can share personal examples of how changing environmental conditions affect their local livelihoods.

For local teachers, the returns are obvious. “We will realize the full benefits of this program for years to come as our current students continue living in the community,” says Schnieder.

SURE is supported by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of Health, Somerset County Public Schools, Environmental Protection Services Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant Program, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.

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Local waterman Buck Jarusek (top) and mayor of Crisfield, Maryland, Kim Lawson (bottom) educate students on the real impacts of a changing coast.

Left: A hands-on professional development workshop connects a seventh-grade teacher with one of Chesapeake Bay’s key critters. Right: Fifth-graders explore what they value in their coastal community.

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