Master’s Program Helps Teachers Sample Stream, Classroom Activities

June 18, 2007

Staunton City School teachers were not able to find many crawly critters in the waters of Lewis Creek on their warm June outing, but they discovered lesson plans aplenty. Partnering with faculty from Mary Baldwin University’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program, it seemed that the fewer leeches and other signs of aquatic life that rose to the surface of the water, the more the middle and high school teachers spilled over with ideas for environment-based learning projects:

    • Public service flyers and campaigns could build awareness about the declining health of Staunton’s major waterway.


    • Math problems that involve applying formulas and estimating numbers of organisms may tell another part of the story.


    • History lessons about the possible industrial contributors to water pollution would be supported by stream analysis.


  • The science applications come, well, naturally.

“Any time we come up with a hands-on activity, the students clamor to participate,” said Judy Robichaux, language arts teacher at Shelburne Middle School.

Staunton teachers listen to District Conservationist Robert Whitescarver on a local farm that has implemented creek clean-up measuresThe lessons Robichaux and a dozen other teachers will take back to their classrooms are the fruits of a grant from Learn and Serve Virginia secured by Tamra Willis, Mary Baldwin assistant professor of education in the MAT program and leader of the summer project. The $25,000 award will help local educators apply the service learning mission of the nationwide organization, Learn and Serve America, right at home. The impaired Lewis Creek has been the subject of several studies by Mary Baldwin professors and students. The grant continues previous efforts by providing opportunities for conversations with local environmentalists such as Robert Whitescarver, United States Department of Agriculture district conservationist, Tara Sieber of the Department of Environmental Quality, and area farmer John Moore, who uses several methods to decrease the amount of creek pollution by his land and animals.

Willis has spearheaded several environment-based learning programs through MAT, including a program fostered by a $100,000 stipend from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. The summer 2006 sessions, collectively called Two Watersheds to the Bay, were the most recent in a series of Reading on the River programs that began in 2003 to highlight connections between literacy, science, civic engagement, and other subjects. Enrollment has just been completed for this summer’s installment, “Nature Journaling Across the Curriculum,” which will take place in and around Staunton and on Smith Island, Maryland, located on the Chesapeake Bay.

Learn and Serve requires that concepts are not only taught, but that they translate into community service projects, which gets the teachers (and, hopefully, their students) even more excited.

“Exploring the issues at a middle-school level will hopefully create stronger advocates for environmental action that benefits the creek,” said 6th-grade science teacher Eliese Zawacki.

Read more about the Learn and Serve Virginia grant, “Learning From the Past, Improving the Future,” at: (LINKS)

Read more about the Learn and Serve Virginia grant, “Learning From the Past, Improving the Future,” in:

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