First Lady, Partners Renew Environmental Literacy Program in Virginia Beach

(VIRGINIA BEACH, VA)—The partners in a model environmental education project providing hands-on Chesapeake Bay instruction to Virginia Beach students and teachers announced today they are renewing the innovative program for another three years.

Standing beside a Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) education boat loaded with middle schoolers eagerly exploring the Lynnhaven River, representatives from CBF, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office, CSX Transportation, and Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) joined First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe in extending the Virginia Beach Systemic Environmental Literacy Partnership through 2017.

"I strongly believe every child needs a solid understanding of the environment and the important relationship we have with nature," Mrs. McAuliffe said. "That's why I am so supportive of the Virginia Beach environmental literacy program. This program helps ensure that our young people have the knowledge and skills they need to become the future leaders and stewards of our nation and our natural resources by encouraging more students to pursue studies in science and environmental fields."

The Virginia Beach Environmental Literacy Partnership began in 2011 and brings together a diverse group of public, private, and non-profit partners to provide hands-on Chesapeake Bay field experiences and related classroom activities for all Virginia Beach sixth-graders. It also provides professional development for middle and high school life science, biology, and oceanography teachers in the school district.

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

"The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is excited to be a partner in this long-term, visionary investment in Virginia Beach schools," said CBF Virginia Executive Director Ann Jennings. "For the past three years, CBF has helped provide the meaningful outdoor experiences and leadership training critical to understanding the local Bay ecosystem. 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."

The program was initially funded by a $120,000 B-WET grant from NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Office and a $55,000 donation from CSX Transportation to CBF and Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Today, CSX Regional Vice President Bryan Rhode presented a check for $75,000 to CBF to help fund the program for another three years. NOAA also has awarded another B-WET grant of $270,000 to CBF for continuation of the partnership.

"CSX is proud to continue contributing to this exciting environmental literacy program in Virginia Beach," Rhode said. "This is both a commitment to healthier waterways and an investment in education programs with a proven track record of success. The initiative is also an investment in our future."

The Virginia Beach environmental literacy partnership takes a systemic approach to hands-on environmental education, reaching all middle and high school students through existing science courses. Lead teachers and others trained at secondary schools develop and design research and service projects that students undertake each year.

Students and teachers also utilize NOAA's scientific data and education resources, including the Chesapeake Exploration curriculum and FieldScope program co-developed by NOAA, CBF, and National Geographic.

"Rigorous environmental education -- like this program in Virginia Beach public schools -- supports vibrant and sustainable coastal communities in the Chesapeake Bay region," said Louisa Koch, director of NOAA's Office of Education. "We should work together to ensure that every student in Virginia benefits from programs like this."

"We are thrilled to continue our participation with the Virginia Beach Systemic Environmental Literacy Partnership," said VBCPS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Amy Cashwell. "Since its inception, this partnership has been able to give our students real-world application of our curriculum in ways that create not only stellar leaning opportunities, but lasting memories for our staff and students."

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