Jonestown Elementary Championing Change:

Students have a hand in creating a healthier, more livable community

The Chesapeake Bay may be far removed from Jonestown Elementary School, but when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered 79 municipalities in southcentral Pennsylvania to better manage their stormwater runoff to help improve the health of the Bay, it provided the perfect hook for teaching students about watersheds and the fact that "we all live downstream."

StoryJonestown Borough was one of ten urbanized areas in Lebanon County receiving an EPA order to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act—and the principal of Jonestown Elementary School jumped on the opportunity to connect real-world learning with community need. "I believe a school cannot reach its maximum potential in educating students without the help of the community," said Principal Marian Robidas, "and that it is never too early for students to begin learning about their community and how to best serve it."

The Land Choices curriculum provided the framework through which students came to understand the problems associated with runoff—and the types of solutions that communities can put into place. The result? Student-installed rain gardens and rain barrels on school property that are helping the borough prevent polluted runoff from entering local streams—which ultimately helps the Chesapeake Bay.

This community-focused stewardship ethic—and use of the Land Choices curriculum model—has branched out in various ways, and grown to include partnerships with the Northern Lebanon School District Jonestown Borough, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), PSATS, bicycle advocacy groups, and other agencies, organizations, and businesses.

Students are now studying their local waterways, donning hip waders and collecting specimens, which they count and identify to help determine the health of the stream. They’re measuring air quality around the school at times of heavy traffic (drop-off and pick up) and at quieter parts of the day - and gaining an appreciation for the amount of emissions that come from idling cars. They’ve studied the positive health effects of walking various distances. And they’ve been involved in the Safe Routes to School initiative, even securing a grant to promote bicycling safety and provide new helmets to children in need.