Rain­for­est springs up at St. Mary’s School in Bryan­town

20th an­nual event raises funds for en­vi­ron­ment

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

A rain­for­est has sprung up at St. Mary’s School in Bryan­town, thanks to work from third grade stu­dents, par­ents, teach­ers and fam­i­lies.

The 20th an­nual Third Grade Rain­for­est is a school tra­di­tion, get­ting more elab­o­rate each year. Vines and branches dec­o­rate the in­side and out­side of the school, and mod­els of an­i­mals from the world’s rain­forests, made by third graders, in­habit the halls of the school.

On Tues­day, third grade stu­dents gave groups of fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity mem­bers guided tours of the rain­for­est, ex­plain­ing the var­i­ous an­i­mals and plants and their im­por­tance to the world ecosys­tem and hu­man health.

“Many of th­ese plants and an­i­mals can only sur­vive in the rain­for­est. If their homes are de­stroyed, they will go ex­tinct,” said Ava Wehrs, 8, one of the third grade tour guides.

The idea of turn­ing the school into a rain­for­est be­gan al­most 20 years ago as a sci­ence project in Peggy Garner’s third grade class to help stu­dents learn more about the im­por­tance of the world’s rain­forests, said her hus­band, Daniel Garner.

Daniel said he be­came in­volved

in build­ing an elab­o­rate rain­for­est dio­rama, and the ex­pe­ri­ence has grown ever since.

“At first we just did a cou­ple bushes, some trees, and the kids would make an­i­mals, so it was very small,” he said. “But each year it just got big­ger and big­ger.”

A re­cep­tion fol­lowed the tour, with dishes made by third grade fam­i­lies that in­cor­po­rated in­gre­di­ents from the rain­forests.

The rain­for­est ex­pe­ri­ence took al­most a week to set up at the school, although stu­dents had been work­ing for al­most a month prior cre­at­ing the an­i­mal mod­els to in­habit the rain­for­est.

Daniel Garner said that each year, the par­ents of the third graders be­come in­volved in set­ting up the rain­for­est and in run­ning the event and the re­cep­tion fol­low­ing.

“We be­gan [set­ting up] about a month ago, on a Satur­day, and al­most ev­ery third grade fam­ily pro­vided a vol­un­teer,” said Cindy Wat­son, par­ent of a third grader.

Garner said he takes a week off work to help set things up.

“But it re­ally wouldn’t be pos­si­ble with­out the help of all the par­ents,” he said.

Money raised from the event is do­nated to the non­profit Rain­for­est Al­liance to pur­chase land to pro­tect the rain­forests, Wat­son said.

Prin­ci­pal Sharon Caniglia said the an­nual rain­for­est event is a tremen­dous learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the stu­dents.

“The chil­dren learn about rais­ing money and giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity, they learn about the rain­for­est, they learn about pub­lic speak­ing. They have a lot of fun mak­ing their an­i­mals, and learn­ing about their an­i­mals,” Caniglia said. “It’s a won­der­ful learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

One of the tour guides, Gabriella Beal, 9, said she hadn’t known that rain­forests make up only 6 per­cent of the world’s land sur­face. Rain­forests once cov­ered more than twice that, ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle by Na­tional Ge­o­graphic.

Car­leigh Wat­son, 9, said that rain­forests pro­vide many of the medicines we use to­day.

“We found out a lot of stuff,” Ava added. “We found out a lot about the an­i­mals that live in the rain­for­est. I didn’t re­ally know a lot about them, but now I do.”

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Rain­for­est tour guides Gabriella Beal, Ava Wehrs and Car­leigh Wat­son dis­cuss wildlife of the rain­for­est canopy dur­ing St. Mary’s School of Bryan­town’s 20th An­nual Third Grade Rain­for­est tour Tues­day.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Third grade tour guides Gabriella Beal, Ava Wehrs and Car­leigh Wat­son lead a tour of rain­for­est fea­tures and wildlife dur­ing St. Mary’s School of Bryan­town’s 20th An­nual Third Grade Rain­for­est tour Tues­day.

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