In October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the award of roughly $850,000 in fiscal 2015 funding through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) program to 12 institutions in Maryland.
The Howard County Conservancy, of Woodstock, was among the recipients, receiving a three-year grant of $309,000 for its Watershed Report Card program.
“This is a model program, a large scale project reaching 1,600 ninth- and 10th-grade biology students each year,” said Luisa Koch, NOAA’s director of education. “It will support high quality professional development for Howard County high school biology teachers. After the grant is completed, the program can continue as a vital part of the school system’s environmental literacy portfolio.”
As part of the program, biology students conduct stream surveys and study stormwater on school grounds to evaluate the health of the local watershed.
“After working with their data all year long, they turn the table and present their report card to the county,” said Conservancy Executive Director Meg Boyd.
For Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R), the award was “a big win. It helps students grade us and gives young people the view that they’re doing something important; it’s not just an assignment.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) likened participating students to ambassadors for the future.
“This is exactly how we want to engage in order to save the Chesapeake Bay,” Cardin said. “Public investments in environmental stewardship often have the maximum benefit when they are partnered with private sector initiatives. These are relatively small grants, but huge returns and a great investment for our future.”
On Oct. 26, the HCPSS announced a partnership with McDaniel College for the launch of Teachers for Tomorrow (T4T), a sponsorship program aimed at developing a more diverse workforce in Howard County. The program offers full scholarships for low-income county students to attend McDaniel, with a commitment to work in HCPSS schools for three years.
“Educators who share a similar social, cultural and economic background as the students they teach have the opportunity for an even greater impact in the classroom,” said Superintendent Renee Foose.
To fill the first cohort of the T4T program, HCPSS will target academically successful low-income students who qualify for the Free and Reduced Price Meals Program, a group shown to be 20% less likely to attend college than other college graduates, according to a 2007 to 2013 HCPSS report.
Students may pursue any course of study they choose, provided they minor in education and serve as a student teacher. Participants are required to maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.75 in the major and graduate within four years.
Property Sale Approved
At its October legislative session, the Howard County Council approved a resolution to sell off 1.92 acres of county property known as the Hurst Building property along Route 1, north of Whiskey Bottom Road.
In doing so, the council unanimously approved Councilwoman Jen Terrasa’s (D-Dist. 3) amendment. It establishes a working group that includes three members of the local community for the purpose of evaluating Request for Proposal submissions, in terms of community benefit, promotion of Route 1 Revitalization Goals and comportment with the General Plan.
“I was concerned that if we sell the property just to the highest bidder, that would lead to a result that would not benefit the community,” Terrasa said.
With a vote of 4-1, the council denied Councilman Greg Fox’s (R-Dist. 5) attempt to place a time limit for the group to return its evaluation.
At the October legislative public hearing, Department of Planning and Zoning Director Val Lazdins sought approval of $895,880 for the Office of Transportation from the grants fund’s contingency reserve to cover bus purchases and a pilot ride-share application for smartphones that enables ride-sharing matchups.
“The app was going to be developed independently by Howard County … but the Washington Council of Governments has already developed an app,” Lazdins said. “This money will go toward fine tuning and bolstering their efforts; this is an opportunity region-wide to broaden ridership.”
Approximately $669,000 of the grant comes from the federal government and requires a 25% county match of about $170,000 for bus purchases, while the ride-share app is completely covered by federal funds.
Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning for the Howard County Public School System, appeared before the council to seek approval of the school system’s Capital Budget request for 2017 and its Capital Improvement Program Request for 2018–2022, which will be submitted to the Maryland Interagency Committee on School Construction.
“We have a $105 million budget, and our long range plan includes a replacement middle school, four future elementary schools, a future high school and a new middle school,” Gallihue said. “About 35% of that budget is dedicated to renovations and modernizations.”
Mold in Schools
The school system issued a release in late October responding to recent news stories regarding the discovery of mold in ceiling tiles at Glenelg High School, in a portable classroom at Centennial High School and at Lisbon Elementary School. Steps were taken to correct each of the incidents, the report states.
“Experts familiar with mold have told us that mold itself is not the root problem, but the result of the presence of moisture,” the release stated. “Remediation of moisture problems coupled with thorough cleaning is the recommended approach of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the one the system has followed.”
The release detailed the steps taken by the school system, which include an accelerated multi-million-dollar investment in a state-of-the-art HVAC system at Glenwood Middle School, establishment of a comprehensive indoor environmental testing protocol, creation of an Indoor Environmental Quality Advisor Committee to monitor procedures and validate actions, and issuing a contract for further independent indoor environmental testing.
“As any further measures become necessary, HCPSS will do whatever it takes to fix the underlying problem,” the release continued. “This type of issue has always been considered part of our Comprehensive Maintenance Program; aspects of which are not typically communicated to the school community. More recently, the system has been quick to respond and communicate issues around indoor air quality in our schools, and will continue to notify school communities on issues of concern.”