Catholic Standard El Pregonero
Classifieds Buy Photos

Holy Cross seniors’ service outreach includes Anacostia River clean-up

During the Academy of the Holy Cross’s recent annual Day of Service, students helped dig up invasive plants along the Anacostia River. From left to right are sophomores Chanda Chung and Emily Dukes. (CS Photo/Mihoko Owada)

Every year, with the exception of during the pandemic, Academy of the Holy Cross seniors spend a day in clusters, scattered around the Washington-area helping communities. This year, the 26 different organizations included Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and Red Wiggler Community Farm.

“Strength in Numbers” was the theme for the 2023 All-School Day organized by the all-girls Catholic high school in Kensington sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Thirty-one students, along with four faculty members, with a passion for the environment made their way to Southeast Washington to tackle removing invasive species and litter along the river at the Anacostia Community Boathouse.

On April 25, students gathered to hear environmental captain Mary Ellsworth, a retired science teacher, give instructions and information on the area and goals of the day. The students were instructed to clean any litter they saw, and remove any invasive wineberries, yellow irises, porcelain berries, and sweet autumn clematis. While many of these are attractive plants, Ellsworth said the plants are a problem, as they prevent other members of the local ecosystem from flourishing.

“People who aren’t aware walk through [the area] and see green and green, and it’s beautiful. Then you start to realize, ‘wait a minute, that’s bush honeysuckle and that’s porcelain berry,’ and you realize these things don’t support the local insects or animals in the area because they weren’t evolved together. Those creatures no longer have a food source or substrate to lay their eggs on,” Ellsworth said.

There was another invading presence the students helped combat, a local groundhog who is a threat to the structural integrity of the boathouse building. 

“I know of four or five holes,” Ellsworth said. “He went under that shed over there. They are famous for excavating under a shed. Sheds are known to start leaning because the ground has been removed.”

The approach to discouraging the underground mammal is planting lavender, which is what Holy Cross students did as a part of their community service. 

Seniors Taz Stone and Reese Long were part of the lavender efforts, both digging and planting near the aforementioned shed. Both worked at theater companies for their senior projects. All seniors are required to complete a 60-hour internship program for three weeks, concluding May 25. Students are required to write a reflection paper about their experience, and a few seniors are selected to present their projects at an all-school assembly.

Stone worked at Art Stream, a theater company for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Long served at Roundhouse Theatre.

Stone hopes to study psychology at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County in the fall. Long is Holy Cross’s salutatorian and will be attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the fall, studying mechanical engineering.

The seniors said Holy Cross offered them a variety of experiences and opportunities to branch out.

“Holy Cross gives so many amazing opportunities to students to take on leadership positions. We both directed different parts of the spring show last year because the pandemic kind of messed up our plans,” Stone said. “I directed a play and Reese wrote and directed a play, and we both acted in them. I don’t think you could really get an opportunity to do that anywhere else, it was completely student driven.”

Long had a similar experience, as a student who wanted to be an author at the start of high school. 

“My whole family’s really STEM-related, so I was like, ‘I’m not into that. I’m going to play sports, I’m not going to do theater.’ Somehow, I’m majoring in engineering and I spent all my time in the theater,” Long said. “I’m doing every show we have this fall or spring. Holy Cross really offered me an opportunity to go into the field that I didn’t think I would enjoy and find a community there.”

Allison Simon, the science department chair at Holy Cross, accompanied the students on their day of service. Simon taught environmental science to seniors during the past year and is confident that her class will embrace what they learned as they go out into the world.

“The reason they’re in the class is because they want a better tomorrow. They are a phenomenal group of individuals and a great community. And as that group, even if they didn’t start out wanting to go into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), I think they’re realizing that they want to be a good science citizen and they want to be a good global citizen,” Simon said.