When Rockingham County Public Schools' (RCPS) administrators began to think about how to increase environmental education for students at every grade level, they decided a little hands-on experience of their own might help shape their vision.
So in June, more than 40 school system administrators and principals left the Shenandoah Valley for the Chesapeake Bay to spend three days at CBF's Port Isobel Island Study Center. During their stay, they combined on-the-water field experiences with planning sessions in an effort to develop a county-wide strategy to make outdoor environmental education a part of every child's education, kindergarten through grade 12.
"We wanted to think creatively about how we can better engage students in their learning and provide them with truly meaningful ways to connect content to the world around them," explains Dr. Carol Fenn, Superintendent for RCPS.
In order to understand academic and other benefits of using the local environment as a context for learning across the curriculum, the leadership team took part in field investigations, such as testing water quality, assessing biodiversity, and researching the culture of the local watermen's community on Tangier Island.
For many, this first-hand look at life on the Bay made a big impact. "The retreat to the Bay provided us a chance to really look at the concept of place value and how we can help our teachers include Chesapeake Bay watershed issues in classrooms," said Eric Fitzgerald, Assistant Director at the Massanutten Technical Center. "The whole idea that 'we all live downstream' came to light and how we can make a difference in our schools. It gave us a moment to connect with each other and connect with the Bay."
Tammy Stone, RCPS Science Supervisor, agreed. "Each one of us came away with a sense of personal connection to the Bay that we can take back to our local watershed and to our classrooms."
These experiences helped to inform discussion and planning sessions focused on the best way to align outdoor learning with content standards and how to weave a thread of environmental education from one grade to another, kindergarten through grade 12. That planning will continue into the fall. CBF educators will visit Rockingham County in November to provide professional development for science teachers and additional assistance to school system administrators as they develop their strategic plan.
"Next summer," says Stone, "RCPS hopes to take teachers as a group out on the Bay. The goal would be to take teachers from prekindergarten through grade 12, so that we can provide these rich learning opportunities at every grade."
—Sarah Bodor, CBF's Director of Education Outreach