As the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) one-of-a-kind Macon and Joan Brock Classroom marks its first graduating class of high school students in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) Environmental Studies Program, the effort is exceeding expectations to create new environmental leaders. Since it was launched under a unique collaboration between the CBF and VBCPS, the site has become a testbed for innovative learning techniques.
This is the only public high school program in the region where students learn off school grounds daily with a conservation organization. High school juniors and seniors in the VBCPS Environmental Studies Program study in the classroom next to CBF’s Brock Environmental Center. But they also join experts in conducting hands-on environmental research and restoration in nearby waterways, marshes, and forests.
“From meeting with governors to restoring oysters in the Lynnhaven River, students at the Brock Classroom are accomplishing far more than we had dreamed possible,” said CBF President Hilary Harp Falk. “These students are learning through real-world experience, and it’s leading to amazing results. Together with Virginia Beach City Public Schools, we’re shaping education far beyond the classroom’s walls.”
This bond between a public school system and a private conservation organization is inspiring the next generation of problem solvers while diversifying the face of the environmental movement. High school students in Virginia Beach can apply to the Environmental Studies Program based at the classroom. So far students in the program have:
- Hosted the governors of Virginia and Maryland to discuss Chesapeake Bay issues;
- Presented their own field research on the effects of climate change in the nearby maritime forest to members of Congress and White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy;
- Created and taught outdoor education lessons to groups of younger students at nearby elementary schools;
- Worked closely with state legislators on policy under consideration in the Virginia General Assembly, including drafting a bill to reduce food waste, as well as supporting investment in environmental restoration;
- Pitched in with restoration experts to build oyster reefs, and;
- Observed a great variety of local wildlife from the classroom, including migratory waterfowl, bald eagles, and harbor seals.
“Building a connection to our schools, our land, our waterways, our communities, and our world through sustainability and education is not just something we teach our students,” said VBCPS Superintendent Aaron Spence. “It is something we are proud to embody within the entire school division.”
The classroom is designed to foster connections with its surroundings. The building’s wall slides open to the outdoors, allowing students to feel the Bay breeze, smell salty air, and hear wildlife. 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. A living green wall of plants provides natural air filtration and serves as a teaching tool.
The effort is a continuation of a 25-year partnership between CBF and VBCPS, both of which are nationally recognized for their sustainable buildings and green initiatives. The classroom was designed by Designed by Tymoff + Moss Architects and constructed by Conrad Brothers. It recently gained full LEED Platinum certification.
The construction of the classroom was made possible thanks to a generous gift from Macon and Joan Brock to CBF. VBCPS covers all costs directly related to educating its students at CBF’s Brock Center. The green wall is made possible with support from The Virginia Beach Garden Club.