Northwood High School Teacher Wins Awards

January 24, 2006
Northwood High School resource teacher Jill Coutts has garnered considerable recognition recently for her educational projects related to the environment. First, a grant she submitted for a school landscaping project won a regional $15,000 te@ch award from Best Buy. In addition, she was honored at the 2006 Chesapeake Bay Trust Award ceremony January 18 with a special recognition award for the school's Green Roof Project.

The Best Buy awards program recognizes schools and teachers who are integrating interactive technology into the curriculum. Coutts will use some of the funds to purchase CAD-based landscape design software programs that her horticulture students will use to help design rain gardens at Northwood. One of the projects of the school's environmental sciences academy is to help design rain gardens, not only to beautify the area but to help prevent stormwater runoff. The funds will help create a mini-hub of linked computers so students will have access to the CAD-based design programs.

Coutts also will use the grant to help fund a collaborative project with the University of Maryland related to revitalization of the Wheaton area. Last year, the school participated in a pilot program with Dr. Alex Chin, who directs the Urban Studies and Planning Program at the University of Maryland. Students were able to do surveys of storefronts in the Wheaton triangle area. With the purchase of Palm Pilots and GIS software, students will be introduced to urban planning, and perhaps be able to participate in long-range projects.

In addition to the $15,000 grant, Coutts also received another $2,500 Best Buy grant for being an initial runner-up before winning the regional grant. Gaithersburg and Spark M. Matsunaga elementary schools and Albert Einstein High School also received $2,500 awards.

At the Chesapeake Bay Trust ceremony, Coutts received the special recognition award for the school's Green Roof Project, funded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation through a collaborative grant written by Coutts and Anja Caldwell, the Montgomery County Public Schools Green Schools program manager.

The 600-square-foot green roof--a relatively new stormwater mitigation technique--was installed in August as a demonstration project. It is the first green roof on a Maryland school.

A green roof is a thin layer of special lightweight soil with drought-resistant plants called sedums. A green, vegetated roof holds back about 50% of the rainwater, so it can evaporate slowly instead of running off rapidly. The surplus rainwater that does run off a green roof trickles off slowly and is cleaned by the soil and plants. Fast running water washes dirt and particles into streams, thus contributing to the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.

“The green roof is a perfect area to use as a teaching tool because it's just outside two classroom spaces on the second floor,” Coutts said. “Not only does it help slow runoff from the roof, but it also tends to cool the space it is above or below.”

Coutts was one of four teachers honored throughout the state with a Chesapeake Bay Trust Award. Also receiving a Chesapeake Bay Trust Award was Poolesville High School student Zaineb Nejati. She received the Honorable Arthur Dorman Scholarship for her involvement in both environmental and humanitarian projects.

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