Portsmouth high school students earn ‘green’ landscaping certificate

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On Monday morning, a small group of students dropped off one by one in front of a classroom filled with plants. It’s mid-December, but a graduation ceremony was taking place next to the Churchland High School greenhouse.

“I just want to congratulate you,” Shereen Hughes, deputy director of Wetlands Watch, told the class. “You are the first high school in the state to obtain this certificate. “

The group graduated from Wetlands Watch’s first professional Chesapeake Bay landscape program for students.

For two weeks, the Norfolk-based organization taught the class – an optional horticulture course – how land and water interact in Hampton Roads, how human decisions impact water quality and the best ways to maintain local greenery.

“Our world is changing,” Hughes told the 17 students. “You can be part of positive change. “

Wetlands Watch has run an adult CBLP program for about seven years, Hughes said.

Local leaders saw the need to train more people in sustainable landscaping while working to implement conservation practices to meet federally mandated water quality goals, he said. she declared. This includes “green infrastructure” methods such as planting tree buffers along waterways and using natural features for the banks instead of partitions.

The main program trains landscaping professionals – contractors, engineers, architects, soil experts and more – who can earn basic or advanced certification.

But people in the industry have struggled to fill entry-level jobs, which has led Wetlands Watch to seek opportunities to train young people, Hughes said.

“If we look to the landscaping industry as part of our solution to better design and install stormwater restoration and restoration practices, we also need to address the labor needs of this area. industry, ”she said.

The group tested the program with an internship program from the Elizabeth River Project. Wetlands Watch then recently won a $ 158,000 grant from Norfolk-based RISE Resilience Innovations, a non-profit organization that funds solutions to environmental challenges. Part of this was used to adapt Churchland High’s curriculum, chosen for its existing horticultural program with the encouragement of the city’s vocational and technical training initiative that prepares students for the job market.

The two-week program combined classroom learning with hands-on activities such as identifying plants, taking soil samples, and tracking water in a parking lot to see where it is flowing. It ended with a field trip to Old Dominion University, where landscaping staff demonstrated how information is used on the job.

Joseph Blanchard, a 14-year-old freshman, said it was his favorite part, including looking at the rain gardens on the ODU campus. He joined the class because he enjoys plants and the outdoors and enjoyed learning how the Chesapeake Bay is connected to several states besides Virginia.

Jenna Futch, 18, said that over the past year she started tending to plants as a hobby to decompress and took the course to learn how to do a better job. As a senior, she is the closest to a potential career in the field and “is definitely thinking about it”.

Isabella Marushia, a 15-year-old sophomore, said she had been working in her garden since the age of 6 and had developed a “green thumb”. In class, she learned about pest control, fertilizers and stormwater, “things I hadn’t even thought about.”

“Doing these practices can help the bay a lot,” she said. “The degree of dependence we have on the bay – it’s important that we keep it safe and healthy so that we can continue to use it. “

On Monday, each student received a certificate, hat and booklet with information about native plants. Hughes used the seed planting analogy. They gave the knowledge to the students, she said.

It’s up to them to cultivate that – in careers, if they choose, or just by taking better care of their environment.

Katherine Hafner, 757-222-5208, [email protected]


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