A student holds up a crab caught during VCR's summer kayak camp.
Connecting Kids with Nature A student holds up a crab caught during VCR's summer kayak camp. © Jennifer Davis / TNC

Stories in Virginia

VCR: Education Program

Connecting students and teachers with the natural environment through hands-on activities and experiences.

Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a living textbook waiting to be opened.  The Virginia Coast Reserve's (VCR) education program aims to connect public school students in Accomack and Northampton Counties to the natural world through experiential field trips.  

Children standing next to a tidal creek
Northampton Middle School 7th graders use dip nets to sift for macroinvertebrates in a seaside tidal creek. © Jennifer Miller / TNC

Studies have shown that repeated field experiences have a measurable impact on student performance in subjects like science. That’s why we’ve made it our goal for every student on the Eastern Shore to have multiple opportunities to visit the reserve, especially those who may not even realize how many incredible things they can find right in their own backyard.

The curriculum-based trips have been designed for 5th, 7th, and 10th grade students. Students have an opportunity for hands-on science learning in different Eastern Shore ecosystems.  5th graders visit the historic, seaside Brownsville Preserve, while 7th graders examine the seaside tidal creeks via kayak. The 10th grade field trips include a boat trip to VCR’s Parramore Island, where students practice scientific data collection and analysis.

All grade levels learn about native plant and animal species, and practice using a variety of scientific techniques and equipment in the field.  

Mariah Tankard from Arcadia High School measures the salinity of Atlantic Ocean water using a portable refractometer.
Outdoor Education Mariah Tankard from Arcadia High School measures the salinity of Atlantic Ocean water using a portable refractometer. © Jennifer Davis / TNC

We have been able to use our experiences on Parramore Island to make a real-world connection with our activities and learning points in the classroom.

Science teacher, Northampton High School

The field experiences were collaboratively designed with local educators through participatory workshops held in 2016 and 2017 to ensure they are aligned with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs)  The field trips are intended to enhance curriculum and make real-world connections with activities and learning points in the classroom. Seeing a seal or a dolphin and even being on a boat—a first for many students—become lasting memories for students.

At the start of each school year, VCR invites new teachers and school staff members from Accomack and Northampton Counties to explore Brownsville Preserve and the barrier islands to learn more about the services we can provide them and their students.

VCR's education program also offers a variety of professional development opportunities for local educators in all grade levels and disciplines, including workshops on coastal resilience and coastal bay ecology. 

People in a boat
Exploring VCR Teachers and staff from Accomack County Public Schools board boats for a trip to Hog Island during VCR's 2019 New Teacher Day. © Margaret Van Clief / TNC

10th grade field trips began in the spring of 2017 and included 151 students drawn from high schools in both counties.  Field trips for 7th graders began in the spring of 2018. 

During the 2018-2019 school year, 430 5th graders and 152 7th graders participated in field experiences. In 2020 we anticipate serving 325 5th graders and 225 7th graders. 

A $326,000 grant from NOAA awarded in 2018, and an additional $194,000 in matching funds from The Volgenau Foundation, will allow VCR to expand its existing education and outreach efforts. Our goal is to accommodate more than 4,600 students and 400 teachers from Accomack and Northampton over a three year period.

In addition to the grade-specific field experience initiative, the VCR education program provides general field trips and in-class presentations for all grade levels in Accomack and Northampton, as well as two summer Nature Camp programs for children ages 6-12.  All costs for public schools in those two counties—including bus rental and substitute teacher wages—are covered by The Nature Conservancy.

CONTACT

Jennifer Miller, Preserve and Education Manager
(757) 442-3049
email: jennifer.miller@tnc.org

Margaret Van Clief, Outreach and Education Coordinator
(757) 442-3049
email: margaret.vanclief@tnc.org

  • VCR connects teachers and students with the natural environment through hands on activities and experiences.

    Field Experience Partnership Opportunities

    Connecting students and teachers with the natural environment through hands-on activities and experiences.

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