This fall, CBF educators ventured to Goochland County, Virginia, for a unique day of outdoor learning that left a lasting impression on fourth graders at Randolph Elementary School. As a journey school, each grade at Randolph Elementary takes on a different project that leads students on an interdisciplinary exploration of their area. This year the theme for the 4th grade is Growing up Green in Goochland: Becoming Good Stewards of our Environment.
CBF worked with school staff, administrators, the entire fourth grade, and even students and teachers from neighboring Goochland High School to investigate the students' yearlong driving question: How can we develop a community that promotes good stewardship of the environment in Goochland and beyond?
Students explored how local waters are connected to the great Chesapeake Bay watershed, learning how actions on land impact the health of our waterways. They then pretended they were runoff and pollution, traveling on journeys throughout the watershed while shouting "everything flows downstream."
This human "web of interdependence" demonstrated how energy moves throughout the food web and how everything is connected.
With help from Principal Dan Gardner, students completed a Schoolyard Report Card that identified places where the school is helping the environment, as well as where improvements could be made.
While exploring the forest behind the school, students used all their senses to study this diverse ecosystem—developing trust, nature appreciation, and sensory awareness.
In a quiet moment, they captured thoughts and special moments in nature journals built out of recycled paper and cardboard. They filled the pages with poems, drawings, and tales from their experience.
Throughout the day the students "grew" an Ecological Identity Tree, filled with Roots (what they like to do in the environment), Trunk/Bark (core values of why they care about the environment) and Leaves (what actions they are going to take to protect the environment). The tree now sits in the school's courtyard to serve as a symbol for action and caring about the environment.
The entire fourth grade came together to create a human Virginia Watershed, showing how their local area is connected to a bigger system.
CBF educators were supported by Ms. Borgie's AP Biology class from Goochland High School, with a goal of having the highschoolers eventually lead schoolyard investigations on their own. They developed leadership skills and great relationships with the younger students.
The fourth graders not only had a memorable day, they honed skills that will stick with them in the years to come. Here are their reactions in their own words:
"One day in fourth grade we didn't walk into an indoor classroom, we walked into a day of outdoor learning with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation! This day will never be forgotten because I love the outdoors, especially learning in nature." - Lewis
"Learning outdoors is amazing because I love seeing and feeling the fresh air, doing work outside instead of being inside, and learning about saving the earth. I hope that we can do this again soon. I will try to make the world a better place." - Pablo
"Learning outdoors is exciting because it gives me fresh air. You are still learning, but with nature around you. Also you see what you are reading about and maybe, just maybe, see some animals, too. I hope we can do this more in the future!!" - Wren
"On Tuesday after our outdoor adventures, students from Ms. Ferguson's class caught the head of maintenance and expressed concerns that we didn't have recycling bins. Mr. Bill literally brought us some within the hour. Wow—immediate impact!" - Teacher Jennifer Gates
Rick Mittler, Co-Manager/Educator VA Canoe Program