Get Schooled: VIMS Program Provides Hands-on Lessons

April 29th, 2011 by Amber Lester


Science class might be one of the few places where peer pressure does some good.

No one ever wants to be the kid who is too scared to try the chemistry experiment or dissect the owl pellets, no matter how squeamish he or she might be. In science class, bravery is encouraged.

I was reminded of the positive peer pressure of science class on Tuesday, when I tagged along on a field trip to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science with Yorktown Middle School seventh-graders. If they were nervous about pulling on waders and scooping up marine life in their bare hands, they weren’t showing it.

Teacher Lesley White’s life science class is just one of several in York, Gloucester and Mathews counties participating in the Chesapeake Studies for Virginia Middle Schools program. The program is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake B-WET (Bay Watershed Education and Training)program, which aims to give students living in the Chesapeake Bay area a meaningful educational experience in elementary, middle and high school. It is offered once in middle schools to seventh-graders.

Earlier in the year, education coordinator Sarah McGuire and education specialist Scott Markwith visited White’s class to talk to the students about the Bay’s habitats, the effects of climate change and human impacts on the Bay. The program culminated Tuesday with the hands-on lesson, where the students grabbed nets and sloshed into the York River to get up close and personal with nature.


Educational Specialist Scott Markwith, right, demonstrates how to catch marine life with a net.

McGuire said the goal is to give them an appreciation of the Chesapeake Bay at a young age, but she would also love to see students inspired to study marine science. Markwith attended a camp at the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) at VIMS in 1999 and was hooked. And based on their enthusiasm, I think there might be some future Bay experts in White’s class.

The students started the day indoors, examining specimens from the York River to get acquainted with the species they’d be looking for when they went outside. Markwith issued a challenge, telling them a different class set a record by catching 40 species, and with that, the kids had a mission.

They pulled on waders, some comically large on their small frames, and tried to contain their energy while they got a quick primer on how to use nets to capture sea life. Tips like: “You should not get wet unless you act crazy and fall over” and “You have to learn to be stealthy!” The students were then cut loose and despite the warnings to walk softly, they splashed into the water gleefully.

The most amazing thing to me was that the kids were completely unafraid to pluck a blue crab out of the net, or drop a pregnant shrimp into the collection tank Markwith set up. Only once did I see a girl shudder in disgust, and that was after she dropped a flounder into the tank. By the end of their field trip, they were all giddy from the experience. Annabelle Hovater told me it was their first field trip in middle school. Her friend Morgan Patterson said she’d give it an “eight or a nine, on a scale of one to ten.”

In an era of shrinking budgets and increased time spent on test prep, field trips have often been shoved aside in favor of videos and interactive web sites. It’s understandable, but Tuesday’s adventure reminded me of the power of getting out of the classroom and into the field (or in this case, the water). You could see the students making connections to what they’d learned earlier; suddenly, they could easily identify a stick fish or an isopod. It was really something to see.

This year’s B-WET program will reach more than 1,000 students across the region. During its six-year run, it has educated more than 3,200 students about the Bay. The larger national program operates in all six Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia. Learn more about the program by watching here:

TNCC Launches Triangle Campus Summer Camp

Thomas Nelson Community College will offer short interactive summer camps for children ages 10 to 15 at the Historic Triangle campus. The camps will run from July 25 to July 29.

Participants can choose from the following camps: Creative Writing: Poetry; Gaming for Kids; Lights, Camera, Production for Kids: Producing TV Commercials; Magic Camp; and Photoshop Fun and Games.

The first session will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and the second session will be from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Campers may register for one session for $65 or two sessions for $120. To register, click here or call 757-258-6551.

Warhill Instructor to Receive Hollins University Award

Warhill High School Visions instructor Debbie Crawford will receive the 2011 Hollins University Teaching Award at the Roanoke-based university’s commencement ceremony May 21. She was nominated by her former student, Cailin Asip, who graduated from Jamestown High School in 2004.

The Hollins University Teaching Award is intended to honor educators who have devoted their lives to preparing students to achieve and excel in a higher education setting. Crawford, who taught Asip during her senior year at Jamestown High School, will receive a cash award of $2,000.

MARTIN’S Donates to Local Schools

MARTIN’S Food Markets donated more than $107,000 to 321 local public and private schools in the greater Richmond and Williamsburg communities through its A+ School Rewards program. The program allows schools to earn cash for scholarships, technology, sports equipment, field trips and other educational needs.


One Response to Get Schooled: VIMS Program Provides Hands-on Lessons

  1. Anonymous

    April 30, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    One of our teachers, IN the classroom, Debbie Crawford, deserves her recognition by a former student who knows what inspiration Debbie brought every day to one student. And now, by Debbie’s peers at Hollins University, this educator WILL be honored by many fellow teachers in person, again…finally, deserved kudos!

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