Open-air classroom

Published 8:38 pm Monday, April 28, 2014

Jean Hodges of Suffolk River Heritage shows Forest Glen Middle School seventh-graders Michael Britt, Malique Citizen and Raven Carr some baby oysters.

Jean Hodges of Suffolk River Heritage shows Forest Glen Middle School seventh-graders Michael Britt, Malique Citizen and Raven Carr some baby oysters.

Bennett’s Creek Park was an outdoor classroom Monday, when volunteers with the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and Suffolk River Heritage presented lessons on caring for our waterways.

Eight marsh field studies stations gave about half of the seventh graders from city public schools a chance to get their hands muddy, according to Elizabeth Taraski, alliance executive director.

Moving from station to station in small groups, students learned about baby oysters and eels, water quality testing, things they can do at home for the health of the Chesapeake Bay — like ensuring mom’s car is parked on the lawn before washing it — and more.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

“They learn not only through hearing but by seeing and touching,” Taraski said, explaining how the outdoor classroom, which continues Tuesday, is part of a comprehensive educational package developed for Suffolk Public Schools.

Funding for the initiative has come from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, the Suffolk Foundation, the Community Action Coalition of Virginia and alliance individual and corporate members.

Meanwhile, the other half of seventh-graders last week experienced a boat cruise, Taraski said, where folk from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation explained the natural environment.

“Logistically, we can’t have all the students do both,” Taraski said, adding that River and Creek Fest, at Bennett’s Creek Park on May 10, would include the same eight stations enjoyed by students Monday and Tuesday.

“In two days, we probably have 20 different volunteers,” she said. “It’s really a lot of planning for the eight exhibits, so they are different and each topic is teaching something different.”

Sequencing of the stations is planned so that lessons from one build on those from previous stations, she said.

“Also, we wanted to have an element of fun,” Taraski said, describing a relay race teaching the use of water-monitoring equipment.

Taraski said that the students would return home and tell what they’ve learned to parents, siblings and other family members.

“It increases the awareness of their surroundings,” she said.

Eileen Darlend, a science teacher at Forest Glen Middle School, said the kids really enjoy getting out.

“A lot of them don’t see these things,” she said. “They really enjoy getting that hands-on experience.”