Up to now, thousands of Virginia Beach students have had the opportunity to take field trips to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Brock Environmental Center to immerse themselves in educational explorations and learn through hands-on investigations about aquatic life, biodiversity, water quality, ecosystems, land use practices and more.
Now, Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) and CBF have partnered for another endeavor: an environmental studies program for high school juniors and seniors that is set to open in fall 2020. To make that a reality, Joan Brock, one of the foundation’s namesakes, provided a generous $1.5 million contribution to build a classroom at the Brock Environmental Center.
This past March, school division curriculum leaders, architects from Trymoff & Moss and CBF representatives invited high school students to the Brock Center to lend their creative ideas for not only the design of the classroom, but also for the program itself.
“It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful location and a beautiful opportunity in front of us,” VBCPS Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence shared in opening remarks. “If you look out behind us, you understand what a treasure our city is. No matter where you live in the city, you are connected to the water in one way or another. To preserve that treasure, we have to solve some problems and you, the young people in the room, quite frankly, will solve some problems that we created. We are glad you are here to help us do that, and I am thrilled to be a part of that.”
Tasked with only a few rules, including to “think as big as you possibly can” and to “push the boundaries,” students then separated into three groups to let ideas roll.
A lab space, transparent walls, a vegetative roof, a green screen for video conferencing with schools across the world, an outdoor chalkboard so the community can see what projects students are working on, moveable furniture, natural light, technology, a connection to the outside and even a living wall with plants and a graywater filter were some classroom items that students wished to see. And for the learning, they wished for hands-on experiences, school clubs that educate others about sustainability and data-driven storytelling – amongst other ideas.
Kellam High School senior Ireland Miller knows that the classroom and program send a more significant message.
“If we can change a mindset, that’s one step closer to making a big difference.”
Applications for the program are anticipated to be available next fall. The program is planned to have 11th grade students the first year and both juniors and seniors in subsequent years.