(VIRGINIA BEACH, VA)—A cutting-edge new classroom launched this spring is reinventing learning in a partnership between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Virginia Beach Public Schools (VBCPS) at CBF’s Brock Environmental Center. The new classroom houses the VBCPS Environmental Studies Program, the only public high school program in the country where students learn off school grounds every day in partnership with a conservation organization.
“We’re totally redefining what school looks like here,” says Chris Freeman, VBCPS Environmental Studies Program Coordinator. “Every single day these students are solving real-world problems, learning hands-on in nature, and working with the community to make a difference.”
The program is now wrapping up its first year. So far, students have spotted seals, studied growth rings on trees for evidence of climate change, caught crabs and fish in seine nets, and researched diamondback terrapin turtles nesting just outside.
In April, CBF completed the Macon and Joan Brock Classroom, a sustainable addition to CBF’s Brock Center. The stunning natural location on Pleasure House Point and partnership with CBF allows students to conduct field research and work alongside experts. That includes participating in oyster restoration on the Lynnhaven River, collaborating with scientists, and taking part in advocacy and policy issues.
“These students want to go out there and change the world. At the Brock Classroom, we’re giving them the tools they need to do just that,” said Chris Gorri, CBF Brock Center Manager. “What has happened so far has already exceeded our expectations. It’s amazing to see how the community and natural world have become a school.”
The classroom is constructed with reclaimed materials, uses sunlight for lighting and natural breezes for ventilation, and employs composting toilets. Electricity comes from solar and wind energy produced at the Brock Center. All the facility’s drinking water is treated rainwater collected from the roof. The large windows and deck boast inspiring views of the Lynnhaven River and the surrounding forests and marshes of Pleasure House Point.
A living green wall of plants will provide natural air filtration and serve as a teaching tool. The green wall is made possible with support from The Virginia Beach Garden Club.
Before the classroom’s opening, students in the program participated in a mix of virtual learning and in-person experiences on the Brock Center grounds. Next school year the program could host up to 100 students daily at the Brock Classroom. Due to COVID restrictions, each of the 50 students this year learn at CBF’s Brock Center two to three days per week as students alternate days on site. In addition to housing VBCPS students, the new classroom will become a community learning space and teacher training facility.
“Working with the experts at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a world-class sustainable building is preparing these students to become the next generation of leaders,” Freeman said. “These kids are pursuing their interests and becoming immersed in everything from architecture to policy to biology. They’ll also be ready for the huge growth in green jobs on the horizon.”
The effort is a continuation of a 25-year partnership between CBF and Virginia Beach City Public Schools, both of which are nationally recognized for their sustainable buildings and green initiatives. All high school students in Virginia Beach can apply to participate in this program. Those interested can learn more about the VBCPS Environmental Studies Program here.
The construction of the classroom was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Joan Brock to CBF. VBCPS is covering all costs directly related to educating its students at CBF’s Brock Center.
“Pleasure House Point is becoming a hub for the community to learn about the environment, thanks to the stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Virginia Beach City Public Schools,” Joan Brock said. “There's nothing more important than educating the next generation about the environment and sustainability. This new classroom opens a world of exciting possibilities that will have a ripple effect for years to come. I'm so proud to support this mission.”
Editor’s note: Photos and videos of the classroom and students are available for use here. Please use credit info in the file name.