High Schoolers to Study Rock Creek Park with National Park Foundation Program

High Schoolers to Study Rock Creek Park with National Park Foundation Program

Bethesda resident's million-dollar donation sponsors chemistry class program for schools

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Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek Park

Carol M. Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons

A new program aims to teach Montgomery County high school students the science behind their local environment and watershed.

The National Park Foundation program will incorporate the study of Rock Creek Park into five county high schools: Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Einstein High School in Kensington, and Northwood, Wheaton and John F. Kennedy high schools in Silver Spring.

The Veverka Family Foundation, helmed by Bethesda resident Mary Jo Veverka, will sponsor the program, which was announced Thursday, with a $1 million gift to the National Park Foundation’s Centennial Campaign for America’s National Parks, covering four places.

“It’s tangible and real-world rather than what’s in the textbook,” Veverka said about the program in an interview. “I would hope that it really fosters a commitment to caring for the land and the water.”

The donation goes toward the Rock Creek Park program, as well as programs near Cabrillo National Monument in California, Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

The three-year program will kick off at Kennedy High School this fall and start at the other schools in the following two years.

Through the program, sophomores enrolled in chemistry will take multiple trips to local streams and to Rock Creek Park to take water samples and learn about environmental problems the watershed faces. Rock Creek Park rangers and experts from the Audubon Naturalist Society, a partner in the program, will lead students through the field studies.

Diane Lill, director of education with the Audubon Naturalist Society, said the program would involve students directly with the nearby park area, which spans Northwest Washington, D.C., and continues into part of Chevy Chase and Montgomery County. The creek's watershed covers much of the larger metropolitan region.

“In our busy metro D.C. area, it’s so easy to feel disconnected, so what we do is introduce these students to the whole world that’s living under a rock in a stream,” she said.

Fourth- and sixth-graders in Montgomery County Public Schools already have outdoor science programs. Organizers of the new program hope it can expand to other high schools in the system and become part of the regular chemistry curriculum.

“It’s not easy for schools, especially at the high school level, to do outside stuff—usually they’re in their classrooms all day,” Lill said. “I think this will be a good way to introduce something totally new and different.”

This story was updated at 6 p.m. on Aug. 14 to correct the location of Northwood High School. The National Park Foundation was also incorrectly referred to as the "National Parks Foundation."

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