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Henrico County 6th Graders Learn About the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Article by: Anne Self, Keli Blyth, and Eric Rhoades

The 2018-19 school year launched a three-year partnership between Maymont and Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) to implement a NOAA B-WET Grant. The program, Bay Watershed in Science Education (BWISE), pairs community partners with Henrico middle school 6th grade students and teachers to take action to improve their local watershed and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay. It does this through professional development for HCPS teachers from all subjects to be able to teach immersive and authentic Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs). This is a unique experience for both students and teachers; focusing on cross-curricular problem solving and critical thinking. The BWISE program is an example of how Henrico students demonstrate the 6 Cs and deeper learning described in the Henrico Learner Profile. The schools that participated in the first year of the grant included: Short Pump MS, Hungary Creek MS, John Rolfe MS, and Elko MS. By the end of the grant period all twelve HCPS middle schools will be involved.

students with photographer
Light House Studio Filmmaker Sam Gorman teaches Hungary Creek Middle School students how to work the camera.

One element of the grant is to provide students with the skills and equipment to create a video about what they learned and give them the opportunity to share an important call to action with other students. VPM’s Science Matters program partnered with Light House Studio to connect students with local filmmakers to create their own videos.  Students from John Rolfe Middle School and Hungary Creek Middle School learned how to develop the story they wanted to tell, how to storyboard it, how to use the camera and capture good audio, and how to create animations.  Here are 3 videos, produced entirely by 6th graders, that illustrate their learning and their fun, creative styles.

teachers giving lecture

More on the BWISE Project for 6th Graders:Teachers gather at Maymont to receive professional development from Maymont staff and community partners from Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Keep Henrico Beautiful, and Henricopolis. They experienced all of the elements of a MWEE, met their school’s community partner, and even got their feet a little wet dip-netting in Maymont’s creek!

teachers and students at the creek

The student experience began with a visit from a community partner to each 6th grade classroom. The partner provided an interactive lesson on watersheds. The lesson helped students brush up on their watershed knowledge in preparation for their field experience at Maymont. A few days later, the students loaded into buses and embarked on their journey to Maymont. They tested water quality, dip-netted for benthic macroinvertebrates, and spent time exploring the Nature Center and Maymont’s grounds. Almost 1,100 sixth grade students from Henrico participated!

After their field experience, students were excited to get back to school and put their new knowledge to work! Each school undertook a MWEE, which involves a four-step process: issue investigation, field experiences, synthesis and conclusions, and action projects. Students identified an environmental problem that their school or community is facing, researched the issue using all the resources available, participated in field experiences to gather more knowledge, worked as a team to decide how to best tackle the issue head-on, and created an action project addressing the issue.

Students at John Rolfe MS have designed and painted rain barrels - two for their school and one for Baker Elementary. After taking walks around the school property, students decided that they could reduce their environmental footprint by adding rain barrels. Water from the rain barrels will be used in their newly constructed, raised bed garden (another great green initiative). Students created their own designs, which were voted on by the student body, then painted during art class. History classes talked about clean water and even constructed their own water filters.

Students at Hungary Creek MS adopted the creek in front of their school. Students worked hard to get the word out to the community about how to be stewards for our environment. Their efforts culminated in a presentation at Innovation Night. The community was able to come and learn about water quality, the history of the area, and their impact on the environment. Students made buttons to sell (all proceeds to Maymont), presented historical maps of the James, showed off their PSAs, and helped visitors test the water from their creek.

Students at Elko MS noticed that their bus loop was looking a little brown, so they decided to do something about it! They installed conservation landscaping by amending the soil and planting native plants to reduce erosion as well as their carbon footprint. Students split into advisory teams. The Landscaping Team designed and selected plants for their conservation garden. The Budget Team used their math skills to ensure that they stayed within their $500 allowance. The Social Media Team blogged the entire process. Each team worked hard to do their part.

After taking walks with their science classes, students from Short Pump MS decided to adopt Allen's Branch Creek, which runs directly behind their school. After seeing the degradation of the stream, the effects of stormwater outflow, and erosion; students knew they had to do something! They monitored water quality, planted native species, and created PSAs to inform their community. During Henrico's STEAM Symposium, students were given the opportunity to give presentations showing what they discovered during their walk and showcased their knowledge about watersheds. Watershed artwork was also on display.  

What is going to happen this school year?

For the BWISE grant’s second year, 8 Henrico middle schools will participate. All 6th grade students in these schools will participate in a meaningful watershed experience. The teachers from the four schools that are new to the program; Wilder MS, Fairfield MS, Quioccasin MS, and Tuckahoe attended a two-day professional development over the summer at Maymont. The teachers were able to gain a better understanding of the BWISE Program and MWEE, meet their partner, and participate in experiences similar to the ones their students will experience during their upcoming field trips to Maymont. Teachers also gained a better understanding of how the program can be used as a tool for teaching art, history, math, and science. The PD served as a great team building experience for the schools and allowed teachers to learn about resources available to them including visits from the partners.

teachers learning exercise

The 6th grade students from all eight participating schools will receive an outreach prior to their field trip experience to Maymont. The outreach will be interactive and help prepare students for water quality testing when they reach Maymont. During the field experience to Maymont, the students will physically collect samples from a creek and perform water quality tests, while respecting the environment they are testing. Students will also participate in activities that link their watershed experience with Art, History, and STEM. After the field trip, the schools will be visited by their partners and experience additional interactive watershed experiences. All eight schools will perform a MWEE driven by their students. Henrico looks forward to the eight resulting student driven Action Projects and are excited to reach twice as many 6th grade students this year!