Monthly Archives: July 2014

Going Green Partnership Benefits Students and Parks

This story was originally published in the summer 2014 edition of Virginia Parks & Recreation magazine.

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What do you think about this group of people?

They compost every day. They recycle. They share food with a local shelter. They have a permeable paver patio with native plants. They garden on raised beds. They maintain bat, pollinator, decomposition and lifecycle gardens. They maintain an adopted trail. They remove invasive plants and replace them with natives. They’re starting a seedling nursery.

And they go to grade school.

These are the students of Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church, Va. They’re in their fourth year of a partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) in which they’ve adopted Belvedere Park next to their school as an outdoor classroom, and the students work several times a year with the Park Authority’s Invasive Management Area program. The Park Authority, the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, and Hidden Oaks Nature Center are some of about two dozen local groups in partnership with the school in an initiative called Going Green. With support from her students, Belvedere Environmental Educator Stacey Evers writes greenBELVEDERE, a blog about their efforts.

“When we first adopted the park over three years ago, Park Manager Richard Maple spent time with me to help designate a trail from the school field into the heart of the open space,” Evers said. “School volunteers then built that trail, which is still used today.” Evers added that, prior to the adoption, the school didn’t take advantage of the nearby park, and many staffers didn’t realize there was FCPA property next door.

“Richard and I recently met to assess the park this spring,” said Evers. “Erin (Stockschlaeder) and Belvedere parent/IMA site leader Terri Lamb were also at that meeting. We are hoping to begin efforts in the next year to reforest it.”

Erin Stockschlaeder is the Invasive Management Area coordinator for the Park Authority, and she works closely with Evers and the students. “Every year students from Belvedere Elementary walk the short distance to Belvedere Park to remove invasive plants and plant native species,” she said. “Most recently I was there on Earth Day when several classes came out (despite the rain) and planted native trees, grasses and flowers. The kids were so small, and so curious! One little girl had to run to catch up to her class that was heading back into the school because she wanted me to tell her the name of all of the plants that her classmates had just planted. She would repeat the name several times and promise to come back to check on them.”

The partnership helps the students learn about nature and the responsibilities of stewardship while the park sees improvements that will still be benefitting the land and county residents when these youngsters are adults.

“Last year students from Belvedere Elementary also collected acorns from the park which they will grow in a protected location on school property. Once the oaks grow large enough they will be returned to the park,” said Stockschlaeder. “Without the partnership with Belvedere Elementary, Belvedere Park would not be on its way to restoration like it is today! In fact, the original Invasive Management Area (IMA) site is now pretty much free of invasive plants, and many of the species planted by the students are flourishing.”

Evers said that earlier this spring the Belvedere students planted a dozen new native trees on their school grounds. “UFMD (the Urban Forest Management Division of the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services) donated the trees and provided scheduling, support and supervision on planting day. They also worked closely with me and Dale Taylor, director of FCPS grounds, to ensure that the trees were placed where they wouldn’t interfere with school use.”

Belvedere was the first school to join in such a partnership with UFMD. Evers says UFMD wants to work with schools in order to help the county achieve its 30-year tree canopy goal. It’s all part of a park partnership and a school curriculum teaching kids to take care of the future.

Stacy Evers can be reached at 703-346-8530.

Author Dave Ochs is the manager of stewardship communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Working Behind The Scenes As A Communications Intern

Summer intern Kathryn Wagner hands out goodie bags during a ceremony marking the start of the Water Mine expansion project at Lake Fairfax Park.

Summer intern Kathryn Wagner hands out goodie bags during a public event to celebrate the start of the Water Mine expansion project at Lake Fairfax Park.

“When Judy handed me these assignments, I realized this internship was actually going to be a valuable learning experience. I was going to learn how to write press releases and PSAs in Associated Press style, media relations terminology, how to effectively communicate and so much more.” Kathryn Wagner, summer intern

On my first day as a summer communications intern at the Public Information Office, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, but I can tell you that my expectations for the level of work I would be doing weren’t too high (quite frankly, I was mainly hoping for good coffee). As a rising senior at the College of William and Mary, I knew I had to get a coveted summer internship to have even a chance of getting a job after graduation. I desperately applied to 20 internships and after getting rejection after rejection, I thought my summer was going to be a boring, uneventful one. Yet, on one fateful day in May, I was offered a paid eight-week internship at the Park Authority (my internship was funded through a different program).

On the morning of my first day, I put on a newly purchased black suit and packed some public relations books in my mom’s tote bag (even though I am a Kinesiology and English double major, I didn’t have prior experience working in the public relations field). Basically, I was overdressed for what I thought was going to be an internship getting coffee and filing documents. Imagine my surprise when my supervisor Judy Pedersen, the agency’s public information officer (PIO) asked me to “take a stab at” writing several public service announcements (PSAs) and drafting a speech for a Park Authority Board member!

There is really something to be said when your internship supervisor is willing to take the time to see what you can do. Internships are supposed to be learning experiences, but interns can’t learn if supervisors aren’t willing to teach them. When Judy handed me these assignments, I realized this internship was actually going to be a valuable learning experience. I was going to learn how to write press releases and PSAs in Associated Press style, media relations terminology, how to effectively communicate and so much more. And, of course, there were skills outside of communications that I learned – how to network, common business etiquette and to always, always double-check your work. I couldn’t have had such a profitable and valuable experience if Judy and my other coworkers weren’t willing to invest in me by helping me around the office and trusting me to do important tasks.

One of the first things I learned about the Public Information Office was that it’s actually one small family. There are only five employees in the office: Judy, Matthew Kaiser, deputy PIO, Diana Fuentes, administrative assistant, and Internet architects Jeff Snoddy and Mary Nelms. Yet, on my first day, I was quickly reminded by Mary that there are actually six employees this summer. She was including me. Needless to say, the office definitely treated me like one of the team, part of the family. They truly integrated me into the entire Park Authority. On my first day, Diana took me around to meet everyone in the Park Authority who was located at headquarters. And everyone was genuinely interested in meeting me, making me feel welcome and wanted.

My favorite part of my internship was how much opportunity I was given. I had the opportunity to prove myself and, as a result, get more writing assignments. I had the opportunity to network as Diana and Judy thoughtfully introduced me to other employees and higher-ups, including the Park Authority director and deputy directors. I had the opportunity to go to public events such as ribbon cuttings, ground breakings, dedications and public comment meetings. At public meetings, I got to see the democratic process in action. It’s a lot more meaningful to personally see how a government agency impacts and affects the citizens it’s serving. At one public hearing, a local residential community was discussing the effects of a proposed picnic pavilion. It’s ultimately all about the people, so I appreciated being able to go to special events. Plus, at one ribbon cutting, my district Congressional representative, Gerry Connolly, said “thank you” to me.

The Park Authority truly loves the internship program. If you think about it, as a Park Authority intern, you are demonstrating that you want to learn more about this organization. And your desire to learn, to put effort into an organization that serves your own community, is something that the Park Authority values. When you are young, filled with ambition and fresh, new ideas – you, too, can make a difference as a Park Authority intern.

Written by Kathryn Wagner, summer communications intern

Kathryn Wagner