CoreShark H2O: teaching Maryland’s young people to care for the watershed

07/11/2023| Daniel Leaderman

CoreShark H2O: teaching Maryland’s young people to care for the watershed

07/11/2023 | Daniel Leaderman

Whether dressed in a crab costume to engage younger children or talking to older students about what happens to rainwater after it falls, the team from CoreShark H2O  brings its passion for educating people about the environment wherever they go.

The Anne Arundel County-based nonprofit sends educators to venues such as schools, community groups, summer camps, and scouting organizations to teach people–mostly children–about keeping the Chesapeake Bay healthy.

Co-founders Nichole and Martin Bentz each grew up in Anne Arundel County and the Bay was always a part of their lives. Martin’s family loved fishing and crabbing; Nichole had a love for gardening and had many friends and neighbors with boats. Their passion for the environment grew naturally, as did a sense of responsibility and stewardship.

“Our mission is to provide environmental education to students of all ages,” Nichole Bentz said. “We hope they’ll gain the passion, desire, and will to take action in caring for our environment.”

group of people posing for a photo in front of the ocean

In 2001, Martin Bentz co-founded a company called ClearShark, which focused on secure networking and served the intelligence community. One of the company’s goals was always to grow to a point where it could sustain philanthropic endeavors, Nichole said.

That moment came in 2013, after the birth of the couple’s son. When she returned to her own IT job after maternity leave, Nichole quickly realized she needed to make a change in her professional life. She needed a better work-life balance and was eager to start fulfilling the philanthropic goals of ClearShark. That is when the couple launched the nonprofit.

Initially, the organization was known as “ClearShark H2O” to establish a clear link to the IT company’s brand. But after selling the IT company and the “ClearShark'' name in early 2023, Nichole and Martin re-christened the nonprofit as “CoreShark H2O” so its work could continue.

Nichole had no experience standing up a nonprofit company, but learned quickly in those early days. They began by fundraising for other small nonprofits with an environmental focus, which helped them make connections and establish their organization’s name. It worked, and soon Bentz had enough support and recognition to focus the organization on its own educational efforts.

young children coloring photos with bodies of water

Today, CoreShark H2O employs two part-time educators and 11 volunteers, including an intern. From September to June, educators visit schools three to four days a week and spend between two and five hours with students, Nichole said.

For younger students, starting in kindergarten or pre-K, CoreShark H2O offers a program called “Curious Crab,” which focuses on the life cycle and anatomy of those animals. Students in the fourth or fifth-grade experience the “Wonderful Watershed” program, which includes pouring water and other elements on a model of the watershed to see how the simulated rainwater makes its way to the bay; red pepper can stand in for substances like fertilizer, for example, and show students how storm runoff moves these materials through the watershed.

The lesson ends by showing students a map so they can see their location within the watershed and, hopefully, think more about their role in it. “We want to give it some relevance to their lives,” Bentz said.

If you are interested in learning more or having CoreShark H2O visit your school or organization, please visit the organization’s website  or Facebook  page.

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