Environmental Literacy Showcased in Virginia

DSC_0029Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe addresses Virginia Beach students and teachers as CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings (right, standing) looks on. Photo by Chuck Epes/CBF Staff.

Student environmental literacy got a big boost this week in Virginia Beach, Va.

Standing beside a CBF education boat loaded with Virginia Beach middle schoolers exploring the Lynnhaven River, Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe gave a rousing endorsement for outdoor environmental education Thursday morning.

"The Governor and I believe that giving our young Virginians environmental literacy and an understanding of their stewardship responsibility to our Commonwealth, nation, and planet is very important," Mrs. McAuliffe told the middle school students. "Educating our youth and engaging them in positive outdoor experiences, will continue to strengthen our efforts to Save the Bay in the years to come.

"The governor and I know firsthand as parents the lifelong impact the environmental literacy program has on students," she continued. "Our children have had the benefit of participating in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's environmental literacy program, and it made a huge impact."

DSC_0084Echoing the First Lady's enthusiasm for environmental literacy were two Virginia Beach high schoolers, Sarah Conley and James Hemphill. They urged their younger colleagues to take full advantage of their on-the-water experience that day aboard CBF's Hampton Roads education vessel, the Bea Hayman Clark. Both Sarah and James are CBF field trip veterans and have become active conservation leaders in their schools and communities.

Other adults at Thursday's dockside gathering got super-energized when the partners in a model environmental education project providing Bay instruction to Virginia Beach students and teachers announced they will renew the innovative program for another three years.

The program, called the Virginia Beach Systemic Environmental Literacy Partnership, was begun in 2011. It brings together a diverse group of public, private, and non-profit partners to provide hands-on Bay experiences and classroom activities for all Virginia Beach middle school students. It also provides professional development for middle and high school life science, biology, and oceanography teachers.

Partners include a coalition of respected outdoor education organizations--CBF, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, Lynnhaven River NOW, First Landing State Park, the Elizabeth River Project, and Oyster Reefkeepers of Virginia.

DSC_0136Thursday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Director of Education Louisa Koch announced that NOAA fully supports the project and announced it is awarding a $270,000 grant to continue the program. CSX Vice President Bryan Rhode also presented a $75,000 check to CBF to help extend and expand the partnership through 2017.

CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings said, "We are thrilled at the program's success, gratified by the funders' renewed support, and confident the initiative will continue to be a national model for systemic environmental education."

Following the speeches and announcements, everyone joined the students aboard the Bea Hayman Clark to examine a variety of fish, crabs, and other critters the students had netted earlier in the day. Their interest and enthusiasm was contagious, keeping the First Lady and the other grownups enthralled for an hour or more.

--Chuck Epes, CBF's Assistant Director of Media Relations

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