Visit to Fox Island
10:21 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Chesapeake Bay Does the Teaching

Teachers from New York to West Virginia are taking their classrooms to a remote island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Students get hands-on environmental learning while experiencing some Lord of the Flies moments.

Eighteen seventh graders from rural Virginia are dredging for oysters on a windy, cold day. A few are seasick but when the oysters are hauled up they rise to the occasion.

Fox Island is about as far away from a classroom as you can get. And that's the point for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which owns it. The kids get wet and slimy all while their teacher, two biologists, and a waterman instruct from beaches, boats and marshes. Biologist Pete Butz blends a little history in with the science. "When Captain John Smith came through here he could see 20 feet clear to the bottom, but now we think six feet is a pretty good depth to be able to see down into the water."

CBF was given the island in the 1970s. It came with a bare bones 1920s hunting lodge that sits on pilings. Teachers come during the summer to train with CBF's Bill Portlock. "It's a five-day class and then the teachers develop a unit, a workplan of how they will use the bay or the rivers in teaching their students."

Research backs the positive affects of getting kids outside. Portlock, who's been teaching for 21 years, says hands-on learning boosts retention in students while cutting down on absenteeism. "Individuals and state agencies embrace the idea that students should be outside more for health and well-being but also to develop those environmental ethics that lead to good stewardship."