ELKTON — Elk Mills Park got a makeover June 7 from Cecil Manor Elementary School students who were fulfilling requirements for a grant from the National Park Trust.

As part of the trust’s “Kids to Park Day” initiative, CMES students participated in activities that beautified their local park and taught them about the importance of environmental stewardship. Some of those activities included mulching the playground, planting two trees that will one day provide shade, assembling birdhouses, hanging bird feeders they made out of orange peels, painting “kindness rocks,” and performing physical activities meant to simulate the journey of pollinators, according to Deborah Heintzen, a gifted and talented instructional coach with Cecil County Public Schools.

Heintzen hopes the community service project will become an annual event for the Cecil Manor Elementary students.

“We really wanted to create something that future generations of students could continue to contribute to,” she said.

Kids also got to share time with a stuffed animal Buddy the Bison, the National Park Trust’s mascot.

Krista Bennett, a Title I resource teacher who also teaches pre-K, kindergarten and first grade, said getting things ready for Kids to Park Day was hectic, but she was happy to see everything come together in the end.

“It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “It’s been a little crazy since it’s the end of the year, but overall it’s been really great.”

With the students working outdoors, Bennett said it was important to instill in them a responsibility for the natural world that is not just a one-day project but a lifelong commitment.

“We’ve been trying to make as many connections as possible in terms of stewardship and just being a good human and taking care of our earth,” she said. “We’ve been talking a lot about how what we do now we’ll need to follow up with next year and come back and make sure that we continue this process both at school and here.”

Although the students get to learn about the environment in the classroom, Bennett said applying those lessons to the real world has its own value.

“I think it really is meaningful for the kids to have that real life application because so often they’re doing a math or reading something and they don’t see how this can help them,” she said. “But I think today is a perfect way for them to be able to demonstrate that the skills they’re learning in school — whether it be about pollination or how we can help the environment since humans do so much to hurt the environment — we can do our part to help and actually make an impact.”

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