The following first appeared in the Free Lance Star.
For children growing up today with much more technology than I had, it's hard to overstate the importance of learning outside. At the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we see a sense of discovery time and again on our educational field experiences. It's watching a bald eagle snag a fish on the Rappahannock River, hearing the rushing waters of the Shenandoah River, or pulling up crab pots from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.
These are experiences that every young Virginian should have. They give perspective on what's real, connect us with where we came from, and help build a love for the world around us. Numerous studies have shown the many benefits of outdoor learning, from higher test scores to lower levels of stress and obesity.
Recently, 15 of Virginia's future leaders joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on a journey from the headwaters of the Shenandoah to the Bay. The high school students saw firsthand how pollution fouls our rivers and flows downstream to the Chesapeake. They discussed what must be done to solve the problem.
At the end of the week, the group met on the shores of the Bay with four other teams who had taken similar trips. There, on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's 50th anniversary, they shared a vision for the future.
At a stop on the Potomac at Westmoreland State Park, former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy inspired the students, as noted in a recent Free Lance-Star article. "Educate yourself on an environmental issue and speak to your elected leaders and they will hear you," he told the students. "You are the face of the future."
However, there is still a long way to go before every Virginia student has the opportunity to take part in meaningful outdoor education experiences. A host of businesses and groups, with the leadership of Virginia Environmental Endowment, have formed Virginia's No Child Left Inside Coalition.
The coalition's 42 members advocate for state and federal support for environmental education. Members range from environmental groups like Friends of the Rappahannock to businesses and associations, including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
This summer, the coalition is advocating for continued investment in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Bay Watershed Environmental Training program (B-WET), which is at risk of being eliminated under the president's proposed budget. Fortunately, the Senate Appropriations Committee has included this funding in its budget work.
Grants from this program are nearly doubled by matching local funds. They invest in local projects that help students learn and take care of waterways while meeting academic goals. Locally, B-WET has supported efforts by the Spotsylvania County School Board and Friends of the Rappahannock.
All of us who care about giving every kid the chance to learn outside can let their voices be heard. Encourage the Virginia Board of Education to highlight environmental literacy in the state standards of learning. Call or write your member of Congress urging support for B-WET.
Business, organizations and school systems can join Virginia's No Child Left Inside Coalition. Find out more at vancli.org. Together we can make a difference for the next generation of Virginians.