Nana Esselfie, a student at North County High School, and Rachel Carey from The Providence Center, plant seeds to become future underwater grasses at the summit. Photo: James Ronayne

High Schoolers, Passionate About the Bay, Lead Environmental Summit

This past weekend in the Magothy rivershed, Anne Arundel Community College and Spa Creek Conservancy hosted an event that gave voice to young people’s passion for environmental issues. And it was all orchestrated by the students themselves.

The Second Annual Anne Arundel Youth Environmental Action Summit welcomed local high schoolers to Anne Arundel Community College’s (AACC) Environmental Center to meet and learn from professionals in the environmental science field. Representatives from numerous local environmental organizations and research projects came out to showcase their work, collaborate on environmental issues, and present students with opportunities for internships and future employment.

The 2024 Anne Arundel Youth Environmental Action Summit (AAYEAS). Photo: James Ronayne

Bella and Maddy Brianas, seniors at St. Mary’s High School in Annapolis, started this event in 2023 after attending the ShoreRivers Youth Action Summit event on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The twins saw a lack of youth engagement in their own community and decided to make a change. The Brianas sisters reached out to other environmentally focused high school students, pitched the idea to Tammy Domanski, a biology professor at AACC, and got to planning. The 2023 event was a big success but they knew they could improve upon it.

For this year’s summit, Maddy and Bella brought in more environmental organizations and included a service project. They aimed to create “an amazing opportunity for students to get involved with important environmental issues that impact our local area.“

Adam Jackson plants seeds for shoreline grasses. Photo: James Ronayne

Students had the chance to work alongside the Providence Center, a local nonprofit devoted to community engagement and supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Students from the summit collaborated with adults from the Providence Center to plant natural grasses in trays that will be incubated and then take root along the shorelines of the Chesapeake Bay. 

Nana Esselfie, a student at North County High School, and The Providence Center’s Rachel Carey talked about their motivation as they worked on planting seeds. “The Chesapeake environment is our home, which is why we need to focus more on protecting it.”

Adam Jackson, a junior at Broadneck High School, said, “The environment is an important issue for me. I grew up fishing and crabbing on the Magothy and have fond memories of spending time on the water and outdoors. It’s important to take care of the environment so future generations can enjoy what I have gotten to enjoy.”

Imani Black (second from left) with summit founders Bella and Maddy Brianas (far left and second from right), and Spa Creek Conservancy’s Donna Jefferson. Photo: James Ronayne

Imani Black, founder of Minorities in Aquaculture, was the event’s Keynote Speaker. She shared her story of becoming a leader in the aquaculture field after playing Division I lacrosse and studying biology in college.

“She is an inspiration to all regardless of race or environmental passions,” said Bella Brianas. 

Black described the students at the summit as “the next generation of innovators, leaders, community members, and advocates,” saying, “If I can play a part in educating them so they can learn and have an impact now, we will be better set to accomplish great things in the Chesapeake Bay for the future.”

Matt Bem, the STEM coordinator at AACC, was impressed by the event and the work the student organizers have done. “These students have done a fantastic job providing networking opportunities and internships for other students in the community. The opportunity to get involved and gain internships and jobs in their field is something most people don’t have at a young age. The fact that these students are not only creating this for themselves but others is truly inspiring.”

He hopes to see more students get involved in the future and he believes those at the Anne Arundel Youth Environmental Action Summit have paved the way.