Programs aims to make field-learning experiences on Virginia’s Barrier Islands available to every primary student on the Eastern Shore
Nassawadox, VA — The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve program has launched a groundbreaking new program that seeks to provide experiential learning field trips to primary students on the state’s Eastern Shore. In curriculum-based trips specifically designed for 5th, 7th, and 10th graders, students will practice scientific data collection and analysis in different Eastern Shore ecosystems, including on one of Virginia’s barrier islands. All costs for Eastern Shore public schools—including bus rental and substitute teacher wages—are covered by The Nature Conservancy.
The field experiences are collaboratively designed with local educators through participatory workshops to ensure they are aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (S.O.L.’s). The first round of workshops were held in 2016 with 5th and 10th grade teachers, and the first rounds of 10th grade field trips took place in spring of 2017. These initial field 10th grade trips included 177 students (out of 525 total) coming from every high school on the Shore.
“Taking my students out to Paramore Island was an amazing opportunity to enhance our curriculum and show them something most of them have never seen before even though it’s practically in their own backyard,” said Andrea McCready, a science teacher at Northampton High School. “We have been able to use our experiences on the island to make a real-world connection with our activities and learning points in class, which is something I could never do in a classroom setting alone. Getting to see a seal or a dolphin and to even be on a boat—which was the first time for the majority of my kids—are things they are still talking about.”
The 10th grade field trips include a boat trip to Parramore Island, where students collect data on geological dynamics and evidence of changing habitats. By comparison, 5th graders visit the Brownsville preserve— a 1,250-acre historic seaside farm—while 7th graders examine the seaside tidal creeks via kayak. All grade levels also learn about native plant and animal species and practice using a variety of scientific techniques and equipment in the field.
In addition to this new grade-specific field experience initiative, the education program—headed up by Education Coordinator Jennifer Davis—provides general field trips and in-class presentations for all grade levels, as well as two summer Nature Camp programs.
“We’ve always known what an incredible educational resource we’ve had here with the Virginia Coast Reserve, and with our new education coordinator on staff we have a new opportunity to leverage it in really exciting and meaningful ways,” said Virginia Coast Reserve Director Jill Bieri. “There are many studies that show repeated field experiences have a measurable impact on student performance in subjects like science. That’s why we’ve made it our goal for every student on the Eastern Shore to visit the reserve on multiple educational trips during their time in school; especially those who may not even realize how many incredible things they can find right in their own backyard.”
This fall will see the launch of 7th grade educator workshops to finalize planning for field experiences for that grade level, with field trips for 7th graders expected to begin in the spring of 2018.