Local outdoor educator honored

Davidsonville man named Chesapeake Bay Foundation's educator of the year

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer Published September 23, 2008

Cameren Stevenson — The Capital Steve Barry, the county school system’s director of environmental and outdoor education, was recently named Environmental Educator of the Year by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Here he teaches fifth graders from Annapolis Elementary about bees with the help of a live hive. Under his leadership, county school children have learned about the bay via outdoor experiences.

Steve Barry is an introvert. He swears it.

But he doesn't look much like an introvert when he quizzes students about honeybee behavior, preaches the values of rain barrels or emcees a rally for outdoor education featuring the governor.

The 59-year-old Mr. Barry looks more like a passionate advocate, determined to convince people to join him in protecting the Chesapeake Bay and the environment. Mr. Barry puts his quiet nature aside to educate people of all ages about the great outdoors and how they can protect it.

His official title is coordinator of outdoor and environmental education for the county's public school system, but he works with grown-ups and community groups, too, often putting in 15 or more hours per day.

Mr. Barry was recently recognized by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which honored him as the group's educator of the year for Maryland.

"Steve has done so much over the decades of experience that any year he could have been a recipient," said Don Baugh, the bay foundation's vice president for education. "But this was a particularly good year for Steve."

Mr. Baugh said the foundation was impressed with Mr. Barry's work to promote outdoor education by supporting the No

Child Left Inside law. The federal bill would make sure all children have outdoor learning opportunities.

Mr. Barry was a staunch advocate for the bill and hosted a rally for hundreds of supporters including Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The bill made it through the House of Representatives, but is likely to die in the Senate because there's not enough time left in the current session. Still, supporters think the issue gained valuable traction on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Barry said teaching kids about nature is a passion.

He has taught in Anne Arundel schools for 35 years. At every stop in his career, he's been involved in outdoor education. And for the past eight years, he's run the school system's outdoor-education programs.

More than anything, he wants to connect children to the natural world around them, he said. And he said he hopes that connection will last a lifetime.

He also said he wants to instill a sense of stewardship, which he defines as "how you treat and respect the natural environment when no one is looking."

Mr. Barry often repeats a story involving students who were going across the Chesapeake Bay to release baby terrapins they had raised in their classroom. But before reaching the bay, many of the children became excited crossing the Severn River Bridge - they thought they had reached the bay.

It's a story that gets right to the heart of the matter for Mr. Barry.

"They don't understand it until they see it," he said.

Seeing, touching, smelling and experiencing the bay is what the school system's programs are all about.

Mr. Barry oversees four programs: the Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center in Millersville, which hosts overnight field trips and summer camps; Camp Woodlands in Annapolis, which the county rents for early childhood day trips; the drownproofing program, which teaches kids swimming basics; and Chesapeake Connections, which brings hands-on activities into classrooms, such as raising terrapins and growing bay grasses.

When his official duties are combined with his unofficial ones, it makes for a long, intense day for Mr. Barry.

Though his job does not require him to attend community meetings, host rallies or build rain barrels at eco-festivals, Mr. Barry said the extracurricular work is vital to his job.

"I can't separate my teaching and my advocacy," he said. "They have to align. If I expect students to develop an ethic, I need to walk the walk."

Mr. Barry also walks the walk at the Arlington Echo facility. Over the years, he and his staff have installed a green roof, 96 rain barrels, bogs, rain gardens and porous pavement to absorb and treat stormwater and reduce pollution that reaches the Severn River. The dining hall has recycling and compost bins, and even milk machines to eliminate the use of nonrecyclable individual milk containers.

"We were green before going green was cool," Mr. Barry said.

In his personal time, Mr. Barry also takes on eco-friendly endeavors. He relaxes through catch-and-release fishing and he even built a bog in the yard of his Davidsonville home.

One day Mr. Barry said he sees himself spending more time fishing and working around the home in retirement, but not quite yet. Perhaps he'll consider retirement in another three years or so, or "Whenever I feel I'm not wanted and not needed."

No matter what the future may hold, Mr. Barry said he knows one thing for sure: "I'll always be outside."

(Revised August 2008)