By: Michel Elben Contact Reporter, Carroll County Times
June 2, 2016
Prompted by the sound of an air horn, Cranberry Station Elementary School fourth-graders fervently used shovels to load 10,000 pounds of oyster shells into their specially designed packaging devices Thursday afternoon. The friendly competition was another phase of the Living Reef Action Campaign, a partnership between the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland and Carroll County Public Schools to restore nearly 3 million wild oysters to the Chesapeake Bay.
“Our student engineers are very excited to work through this exciting STEM challenge, knowing it is real and that they are making a difference in the Chesapeake Bay and the world,” said fourth-grade Science, Technology, Engineering and Math teacher Leslie Bollinger. “It is our hope that they take this learning opportunity and continue to seek out solutions to problems that affect the world around them.”
According to Bollinger, 82 fourth-grade STEM students formed 21 teams to imagine, plan, design and build a new “technology” that would safely and efficiently fill a specific oyster shell bag with used oyster shells. The shells were part of an ongoing collection by local restaurants in the Westminster area. After bagging, the shells will be transferred to the University of Maryland Horn Point Oyster Hatchery for seeding. The young oysters, called spat, will be placed back into the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Choptank River to repopulate.
“The challenge fit in perfectly with our fourth-grade water quality unit and our focus on STEM education,” Bollinger said. “To prepare for this challenge, our students researched oysters and their role in the Bay ecosystem. They listened to guest speakers who gave their perspectives on oyster restoration … Students made prototypes of their designs, then built real, working oyster bagging designs over a period of four weeks.”
Bollinger said the students could use only one bucket and one shovel during the competition. Each round lasted 15 minutes. The teams with the most shells bagged moved on to the final round. The event was judged for safety and efficiency by State Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, and Stevenson University’s assistant professor of biology Dr. Keith Johnson.
Krebs said she was happy to judge the event.
“These students really understand the importance of repopulating oysters and a clean bay,” Krebs said. “It’s great to see what these kids can do to make a difference.”
Johnson, who will also work with CCA to monitor the oyster reefs, said the competition was a great way to gain community interest.
“Any kind of community program that gets students involved is great and this will actually be used to restore the bay,” Johnson said.
Oyster Recovery Project shell recycling operations manager Tommy Price, who provided the bags for the competition, said the event was very exciting.
“They’re definitely one of the youngest groups and they’re making bags in surprisingly quick time,” Price said. “I like the ingenuity of their projects. They’re laughing and getting exercise while learning the value of oysters.”
Fourth-grader Lauren Lane said the whole goal was to make bagging oysters easier.
“The oysters go in a funnel, down a pipe and into a mesh bag,” Lauren said.
Fourth-grader Donte Greening was a member of team Shell Shocker. They created a device that funneled the oyster shells through a tube. The mesh collection bag was hooked to the tube with nails.
“It worked kind of good,” Donte said. “It was a challenge because you had to think about how it might break. Right in the middle of it, the shells got too heavy and it broke so we had to hold the device together.”
Fourth-grader Renzo Balsamo was a member of team Oyster Bagging UFO.
“The bag is held on little pegs and we dump oysters into the bag until it’s full,” Renzo said. “It was OK the first few times but then it went crooked.”
Tunnel Funnel team member Faith Mohr said her team’s device involved shoveling the oyster shells into a bucket which then moved through a funnel. The mesh bag was attached to the funnel by chicken wire.
“Our shells kept falling out but it worked OK,” Faith said.
Tunnel Funnel team member Angelika Saucedo thought her team did well.
“I think we should have gone a little faster,” Angelika said. “I like that after this, the oyster shells are going to a university that will put spat on them. Then they’ll grow and clean up the bay’s water.”
Oyster Chute team member Malachi Denning said his team shoveled oyster shells onto a gutter and then pushed them down to members holding the mesh bag.
“We bagged 10 bags in the first round,” Malachi said.
Fourth-grader Amanda Knell said she thought the competition was fun.
“I liked that we could use our own ideas and that we helped our community,” Amanda said. “I think the contest was really cool and a fun way to help the bay.”
Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland President Rick Elyar said the group provided the students with all the supplies, shirts and educational materials for the project. While the students’ ultimate reward was helping the Chesapeake Bay, CCA also awarded the top two teams with fishing rods. Teams Oyster Repopulator and Oyster Chute won the overall competition, completing 16 bags each.
“This is a great event,” Elyar said. “We never realized this program would get this big.”