TRAPPE — “Sturgeon! sturgeon! sturgeon!” White Marsh elementary students and staff chanted on Thursday morning when a new Chesapeake Bay mural painting was revealed on the school’s blacktop.
Colleen Miller and her third grade class have been busy studying the endangered Atlantic shortnose sturgeon throughout the school year. Students visited the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge last fall to see and touch the smooth-skinned fish. Classroom assignments included write-ups and tracking data to locate sturgeon in the Bay, among others.
Millers’ students decided to take action to help prevent the complete loss of this species by educating others. They decided that not enough students are aware of the sturgeon’s existence in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Last week the third-graders, with the help of artist Patrick Rogan, created a 25-by-25-foot mural of the Chesapeake Bay on the school’s newly paved playground blacktop. Miller believes the mural will be a valuable educational resource for students for many years to come.
“This mural only begins to illustrate the vital conversation that I see Shore Rivers leading in our communities,” Rogan said. “It’s about our deep connections to nature and each other.”
“The (mural painting) of the Chesapeake Bay, seen from space, reminds me that we live in a water world and the species around us from crabs and oysters to the Atlantic Sturgeon shape our culture.”
“Students at White Marsh not only created the mural with me, they constantly engaged me in conversations about the Bay’s species. They were especially enthusiastic about the 14-foot-long sturgeon that we incorporated into the painting! They thought it looked like a prehistoric monster and were amazed to imagine them swimming in Chesapeake waters over the centuries. Their excitement for learning is contagious and will certainly inspire more of my work,” Rogan said.
Students filed out to the blacktop to discover the mural and learn more about sturgeons from Courtney Leigh, Shore Rivers educator.
Leigh attributed the sturgeons’ decline to fertilizer and run-off nutrients depleting waters of oxygen. She also taught children the species’ average life span (60 years upon survival), typical length (seven feet to 12 feet), diet (clams, crabs, mussels) and more.
“Shore Rivers feels it’s important to invest in future generations of river stewards through education programs that teach value, importance and fun found on our local rivers,” Leigh said. “The ‘Sturgeon Discovery’ project was funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Talbot County Arts Council, TCPS Education Foundation and family donations from the school.
This school year marked the program’s first year at White Marsh Elementary School.
“I love this idea. We live on the Bay and it’s wonderful. I have a nephew, Nick Hargrove, that does oystering and crabbing and it’s all about giving back,” said Nancy Hargrove, project sponsor.
In addition to the Hargrove family, other local sponsors included the Rauch and Hinduja families.
“School programs like this lead students to think like river keepers, make observations, find problems, collect data and take actions for their rivers to come up with solutions,” Leigh said.
Miller told the students she was proud of their hard work and passion for learning about sturgeons and the Chesapeake Bay.
“A lot of the students’ families work on the water, a lot of the families are in the area and the Bay is important to them,” Miller said. “Students can have an impact on the issue, make changes and spread the word so it doesn’t have to be the end of the sturgeons. Even as eight- and nine-year-olds, together we can make a difference.”
The mural also marks the school’s location in Trappe.
“As a social studies teacher, I see that students have no idea where their place is in the world,” Miller said. The location tag teaches the “concept of where Trappe is in terms of Maryland and where the Bay is.”
Leigh said a strong resonation happens when collaboration joins emphasizing and celebrating the lesson. “It becomes so contagious to the children,” she said.
Kim Seidel, White Marsh Elementary principal, said the day’s energy was amazing, with young students “hungry” to learn about sturgeons and the mural.