Teen of the Week:
A convenient truth about Melissa Duvall

She wants to make the world a greener place

By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital
Melissa Duvall, a 17-year old resident of Arnold and a senior at Broadneck High School, hugs one of the oldest oak trees still standing in Maryland. Founder of the high school’s Outdoor Environmental Club, she is planning to major in Environmental Science in college.

Melissa Duvall is up front about being a tree hugger. The 17-year-old Broadneck High senior's life, like many area residents, is entwined with the outdoors: she's hiked outdoors, played sports on county ball fields and swum in local waters and pools. She likes her planet clean and green.

Last year, the Arnold teen - related to a long line of Duvalls who settled in the area centuries ago - founded the high school's Outdoor Environmental Club. Instructor Nancy Bourgeois is the club's adviser. The club's mission is "to promote awareness and enjoyment of the natural world and to plan and implement environmental service projects."

Its 20 student members learn about the environment in myriad hands-on projects, including strengthening recycling efforts inside the school and raising baby bay grasses in tubs under grow lamps for replanting in local coves.

Club members take their activism into the State House.

"We just did a presentation to House Speaker Mike Busch, our local delegate, and to State Senator John Astle. We want them to support the Global Warming Solutions Act, which is intended to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The bill would call for educating the public while raising emission standards to accomplish the bill's goal," Melissa explained.

With the General Assembly ending tomorrow, it doesn't look like the bill will actually pass - It never made out of committee.

Last December, she recalled, club members "put flyers on all the SUVs at a mall. We're for raising emission standards, not for getting rid of SUVs."

The club's cafeteria and hallway recycling program is making strides in getting schoolmates to drop bottles in recycling bins instead of in general garbage cans. Club members are also testing a sediment pond on school property to see if the grass planted there is having a positive impact on the pond water.

For a first-year club, the group has been very active, Melissa said.

"We have a ton of activities. We created a faculty survey to see what other environmental activities are needed in the classrooms, and, we're going to apply for Maryland's Green School Program," she continued. "We hope to do it for this year or next. Later this month, we're also hosting a free screening of 'An Inconvenient Truth,' the Oscar Award-winning environmental film about global warming. We'll hold a bake sale to raise money for the outfitting of an outdoor classroom in one of our outdoor courtyards. They're not used effectively now, but, with benches, tables and weatherproof chalkboards, they'd be great on a nice day."

The group has also asked the PTSO for a $50 grant to print up stickers.

"We'll put those on computer monitors and light switch plates all over the school, to remind people to turn equipment and lights off when they're not in use."

Club members are also planning to talk to the Board of Education, to urge them to incorporate green technology into its 10-year building plans. Even if 'building green' is a little more expensive, the energy costs savings over the long term will more than make up for the up-front expense," she pointed out. "We are also preparing Earth Week facts for announcements over the school's P.A. system."

"Broadneck High is such a big school, I'm surprised it didn't have any big environmental programs," she said.

The idea for the club came to Melissa, a member of the National Honor Society with a weighted 4.37 grade point average, while taking Ms. Neidhardt's AP Environmental Science course. It also sparked a career decision.

"I figured that's what I want to do in college. I've applied to University of Maryland, Syracuse, Santa Clara in California, Boston University, and UNC-Chapel Hill. They all have good environmental programs and good academic reputations. I want to major in Environmental Science," she said.

She has to decide on one college by May 1.

"I hope to have a career involved with helping people and the world," she said. "One that changes the current status quo and ensures a better future for the world."

Her dad, Nathan, is a truck driver for Churchhill Distributors. Carolyn, her mother, is vice president of sales for Commercial Lighting Sales. Big Sis Megan, 21, is studying at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S. C.

Melissa does swimmingly in other areas, too. Her academic record has earned her a slot on the Principal's Honor Roll and the National Honor Roll. She also earned a Maryland Athletic Association Scholar Athlete Award.

A competitive swimmer since 8th grade, she is a founding member of the Broadneck High Varsity Swim Team, which debuted with a splash last year under Coach Anne Elizabeth Murphy.

Ms. Murphy, who taught Melissa's 9th grade Government class, said she is a great kid who works hard and expects a lot from herself.

"She studies hard. She practices hard. She swims hard. All her hard work shows in the final products. I feel privileged to know Melissa and given the opportunity to watch her grow. I met Melissa when I was a student intern in her 8th grade classroom and it has been a great experience to watch her grow into the young woman that she is."

The teen goes beyond the sport: she's a certified life guard with a raft of swim club experience. Currently, she works part-time at Big Vanilla as a guard and will soon begin teaching swim classes to youngsters.

As for that tree she's hugging? It's one of the oldest oak trees in Maryland, if not the country. It is hidden in plain view near a local ballfield. Though mostly healthy, a large limb fell off decades ago and lies like a ruined Corinithian column across a nearby stream. If Melissa has her way, there will be more trees living longer and healthier lives in her home state.

Published April 08, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

(Revised April 2007)