Watershed Voice
Spring 2011
Beyond Books

New Environmental Education Initiative Could Become National Model

By Andrea Moran, CBF Staff

Students seining on a creek during a CBF education experience

Seining is one activity students may experience on a CBF education experience. CBF is planning an exciting new educational partnership with Virginia Beach Public Schools.
Photo credit: Andrea Moran/CBF Staff

Chesapeake Bay education may get propelled to an exciting new level in the near future. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF)'s widely acclaimed education department is expanding its partnership with the Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) to launch an environmental literacy program that would reach all Virginia Beach students in core science classes. With 70,000 students, Virginia Beach has the third largest school system in the state. Rather than providing an experience that select students benefit from, under the new program, every student in particular grades in the Virginia Beach public school system would receive high-quality, high-impact watershed experiences every year, year after year, because it would be part of the science curricula.

The Virginia Beach Systemic Environmental Literacy Program (VBSELP) will enable CBF and VBCPS to enhance a 20-year partnership that has the potential to be nothing short of transformative. It would also create a model for school systems throughout Virginia, the Bay watershed, and the nation. The partnership would ensure that every graduate gains a strong understanding of the local environment and the human impact on it.

Says CBF President Will Baker, "We have a dream of widespread environmental literacy. We've done so much but we're hardly finished. With this new initiative we will look back in five years at what we've started today, and know that we really can make the world a better place by getting kids excited about the environment."

Dr. James Merrill of VBCPS says the program is important because "[t]o get students ready to enter the world, we must teach them how finite our resources are, and teach them about sustainability."

The program will expand partnerships with local environmental organizations such as CBF, the Elizabeth River Project, Lynnhaven River Now, Oyster Reef Keepers of Virginia, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, and First Landing State Park.

A key component of the environmental education plan is teacher training, based on CBF's successful experience of more than 30 years. The new initiative would establish lead teachers at each secondary school and have other trained teachers develop and design model research and service projects for middle and high schools. Each participating teacher would have a portfolio of research projects which would be assessed annually for effectiveness.

VBCPS has identified sustainability and global awareness as essential twenty-first-century skills in its strategic plan. And Lynnhaven River Now's Karen Forget says "this proposed program will also help us enhance our goal for Virginia Beach schools to have zero runoff while developing curriculum on school property that enhances buffers, builds rain gardens, etc."

The proposed program in Virginia Beach also complements the national No Child Left Inside movement which CBF and hundreds of other outdoor and environmental organizations are advocating.

CBF recently received notice that a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) grant needed to fund the Virginia Beach initiative had been approved. However, NOAA's budget cannot be finalized until the federal budget is resolved. CBF and VBCPS are committed to finding a way to make this exciting project a reality. 

The VBSELP was presented last month at CBF's annual education conference, which was held in Virginia Beach.

These key players gave the plan enthusiastic praise:

Joe Burnsworth, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Virginia Beach City Public Schools: "This is going to create an enormous change in our school system and give every student the same opportunity. This is for the long-term, not just a one-day experience. Each student will have a portfolio of research and problem-solving work, which will be reviewed to assess success. We know we'll see results because it's going to be embedded into the learning experience."

Charles W. "Wick" Moorman, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, Norfolk Southern Corporation: "Norfolk Southern has a responsibility to the communities we serve. Part of that responsibility is to help strengthen the education systems of those communities, many of which do an inadequate job of environmental education. By working with CBF to enhance environmental education, we'll ensure that students today will be a better workforce and better citizens tomorrow."

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