River educates teachers
During her tenure as principal at Elizabeth Davis Middle School, Sara Fraher explored various methods to unify the faculty while also encouraging appreciation for the environment among the student body.
Fraher is no longer at Davis, having taken over as principal at Manchester Middle, but her legacy endures. That’s one reason why, for the third consecutive year, a group of Davis teachers signed up for a highly interactive five-day environmental education course offered last week by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“Chesterfield County Public Schools wants to create lifelong learners and I think teachers are the best example of that,” said Betty Bauman, who teaches English at Davis.
But the real adventure began Tuesday, when the group of 16 teachers reported to the boat launch at Deep Bottom Park in Henrico County for a canoe trip on the James River.
They worked together to help CBF leaders Eric Wiegandt and Ken Slazyk unload the canoes, listened to Wiegandt’s brief tutorial on rowing techniques and donned life jackets before boarding the canoes.
The teachers performed water quality tests during the trip, then returned to shore and watched an “electrofishing” demonstration by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Electrofishing is a scientific survey method used to sample fish populations to determine abundance, density, and species composition in a particular body of water. Performed correctly, it leaves fish unharmed and able to return to their natural state in as few as two minutes after being stunned.
Slazyk, an avid outdoorsman who grew up in rural Hanover County, said one of the interesting parts of his job is the opportunity to interact with people “outside their comfort zone.”
“Sometimes you can get a little jaded because you see things in nature all the time,” he added. “Watching the light bulb come on when somebody sees something for the first time – like maybe a bald eagle – I get to see it through their eyes.”
For course veterans like Bauman, motoring out into the middle of the Chesapeake Bay was hardly a new experience. Not so for first-timers like seventh-grade math teacher Lisa Perreca.
“It was quite the adventure,” Perreca said. “We learned a lot about the bay and about each other.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, the teachers performed a range of activities that aren’t part of their everyday routines – from pulling up crab pots and dredging for oysters to mucking their way through a saltwater marsh looking at minnows, birds and dragonflies.
In the evening, they gathered to discuss challenges to the health of the bay and identify strategies for improving it. They spent two nights at Great Fox Island, where they stayed overnight in a former hunting lodge on stilts 20 minutes north of Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.
Bauman’s prediction that accommodations there would be “pretty primitive” proved accurate; there was little electricity in the lodge, no indoor plumbing and no air conditioning.
Fortunately for the teachers and their CBF leaders, there was a significant breeze blowing across the island both nights. Many in the group pulled their mattresses out into the large screened-in porch to sleep Wednesday night, and had similar plans for Thursday night until a wicked thunderstorm rolled over the island and forced them indoors.
“Triple digits [temperatures] and no AC and we still managed to have a wonderful time,” Perreca said.
Wiegandt hopes that the teachers’ experience last week motivates them to bring their students out on field trips with CBF staff during the school year.
Increasing student knowledge and appreciation of the environment was one of the goals of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement between the states of Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.
It was also an item on the to-do list of the former principal at Elizabeth Davis Middle – one that has been fully embraced by many of the school’s current staff members.
Included among the group members who participated in last week’s CBF course were the school’s special education coordinator, librarian and teachers from every subject area and grade level.