Northwood High School environmental science teacher Erol Miller was presented with the Chesapeake Bay Trust educator of the year award on Jan. 26 before Maryland legislators in Annapolis.
After praise from the president of the Maryland Senate and the head of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Miller received the award for his "outstanding commitment to environmental education." The Northwood Chesapeake Bay Trail and the students who helped create it were also mentioned with the award.
Miller created the Northwood Chesapeake Bay Trail in collaboration with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and Friends of Sligo Creek. The trail, which runs through a vacant wooded lot next to Northwood High School, connects the Northwest Branch with the Sligo Creek Trail. This project involved removing more than 11,000 pounds of trash, according to Miller.
"It was used as a dumping ground for the longest time," he said.
More than 200 volunteers worked since 2009 to pick up trash and clear invasive species, according to Miller. Educational signs placed along the trail tell how to distinguish native species and protect the Chesapeake Bay.
The wooded area serves as an outdoor classroom for Miller's students, he said. They study nature, take soil samples, identify leaves and estimate the age of the forest by measuring trees. With the trash removed, Miller said he worries less about safety issues now.
And the trail is not only used by Miller's students. Community members walk along it, and the Northwood cross country team uses it as their course.
Miller, who has taught at Northwood for eight years, also led a team of teachers and students "to develop a Maryland Green School application that received praise from the U.S. Department of Education," according to the Chesapeake Bay Trust website. In addition to receiving the educator of the year award, Miller will have the opportunity to apply for a $2,500 grant for environmental projects and programs at Northwood High School.
What's next for Miller? His students this semester are working to grow native plants in a greenhouse, that will then be transplanted to help restore a meadow in the woodland. He would also like to improve Northwood's recycling program.
Miller said he loves the projects and he loves being outside. "But the most reward thing for me is the class discussion," he said.
Earlier this month Ed Murtagh of GreenWheaton blogged on Patch about Miller's environmental accomplishments.
Editor's Note: Chesapeake Bay Trust was incorrectly identified as Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a previous version of this article. We regret the error.