By Katrina Vaitkus
Prince George’s Soil Conservation District (PGSCD) in Maryland is leading the way in educating the next generation of conservation leaders. Since joining the district in 1986 as an engineer, District Manager Steve Darcey has seen the district expand its programs to become more involved with the county’s youth.
The district currently participates in five different youth programs. Their flagship, Darcey says, is their local Envirothon competition, in which over 16 schools participated in 2019. Prince George’s County’s team from Eleanor Roosevelt High School placed fifth in the Maryland state competition this year.
PGSCD also hosts a Summer Internship Program, through which they hire two high school or college students to work in their office during the summer. “It’s been really productive,” Darcey says. PGSCD has a Maryland Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Technician on staff who came to them originally through the internship program.
Through participation in Prince George’s County Public School’s (PGCPS) Environmental Education Program, the district has helped build a curriculum for students and advise schools on how to incorporate environmental education into their classrooms. As a part of the PGCPS Environmental Literacy Program, the district has committed to giving recycling containers to some of the county’s ‘Green Schools’. PGSCD has already provided 150 recycling bins, decorated with their district logo, to four elementary schools and plans to provide 150 more in the coming year.
The district has participated in the county’s Summer Youth Enrichment Program (SYEP) for the past five years. The purpose of this six-week program, Darcey says, is to “enrich students and immerse them in different areas, so that they learn what’s out there in the real world, with the hope of helping them determine what career path they would like to take.”
This summer, as part of the SYEP, the district is hosting four students (pictured left). Three of the students attend Gwynn Park High School and the fourth is studying at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. These girls are already active within the agriculture community, as they are a part of FFA and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).
On July 23, the students gave a presentation on their experiences in the program so far, showcasing how much they have done and learned in just two weeks – from learning to conduct field soil texturing (making soil ribbons) at the Accokeek Foundation and learning about alpacas at Americpaca Alpaca Breeding Company, to testifying before the Prince George’s County Council Hearing on Council Bill (CB)-14-2019 for Urban Agriculture.
The students also visited Clagett Farms with SYEP students from the Office of Human Resources and Management, where they learned about livestock and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and saw a rainfall simulator demonstration. “Most of those students had never been on a farm,” Darcey said. “It was all so alien to them.”
With four weeks left of the program, these students will continue to learn about agriculture and conservation practices. They have many other educational trips lined up, such as a visit to the county’s oldest urban farm, ECO City Farms, and plan on creating a video of their experiences for the district to utilize at the end of the program.
Darcey encourages other districts to get involved with their youth to stay relevant and widen their impact. “You’ve got to reach out and get out of your comfort zone,” he said. “Reach out to different populations that you haven’t worked with before.”