Saturday, May 21, 2022

Get Schooled: Matoaka Staff Find Inspiration at Queens Creek






After a week of kayaking with fellow educators earlier this summer, Matoaka Elementary Principal Andy Jacobs had an idea: instead of welcoming his staff back with PowerPoint presentations, he would greet them with a day of sunshine on the water.

On Thursday, 60 faculty members from Matoaka spent the day at New Quarter Park, where Chesapeake Experience facilitated professional development that was not only fun, but inspiring. By the end of the day, they left with new friends and had come up with ways to integrate lessons about the Chesapeake Bay into every classroom.

Chesapeake Experience creates educational experiences for students, teachers and the public to increase understanding and (hopefully) passion for protecting the Chesapeake Bay. Participants enjoy kayaking trips, geocaching, scavenger hunts, games, nature journaling and more. They are guided by experienced teachers; Director Jill Bieri holds a master’s degree in marine science and has worked as a scientific researcher and environmental educator. Her staff is composed of passionate educators and scientists, most of them locals.

Throughout the day, Bieri and her staff led groups of the teachers through different tasks, from kayaking to building filtration tanks to measuring water quality in Queens Creek, culminating in a brainstorming session for lesson plan ideas.

Matoaka Elementary School Principal Andy Jacobs kayaks on Queens Creek during a professional development day.

Bieri invited me to watch the staff at work, and one thing struck me about teachers: they are bright students and quick learners, but just like their students, they get a little nervous, too.

Some needed a little coaxing to share their ideas or volunteer to test the water, and in one case, school nurse Debby Chandler needed moral support to get over her initial trepidation to go kayaking.

She’d never been in a kayak, but when she finished, her exuberance was infectious. She didn’t just step out of her comfort zone, she said, exclaiming, “I jumped out of the plane!” She told me she can’t wait to use herself as an example for students who are afraid to try new things.

I tagged along with first grade teacher Susan Abrahams, math specialist Rose Burwell and special education teacher Carolyn Miller as they completed the scavenger hunt, which asked them SOL-related questions, such as “Name two causes of soil erosion” and “What does salinity measure?”

We ambled along a hiking trail, looking for landmarks and noting the flora and fauna as we went. We spotted the red flash of a cardinal in the trees, the fluffy white tail of two baby deer scampering away and the elegant shape of a heron in the distance. As we hiked, we talked about the upcoming year and how they’ll incorporate lessons about the Chesapeake Bay into their classes.

Burwell said the teachers could use the one-mile nature trail that loops around the back of Matoaka’s campus to replicate the scavenger hunt. She added that Matoaka’s retention pond could be used to teach the basics about water and aquatic life. Abrahams said that in the past, she has completed an activity with her students to learn about how the James River became polluted, and what role humans played.

Each group met for a brainstorming session led by Bieri, working to come up with ways to talk about the Chesapeake Bay in disparate subjects and scheming low-cost options for field experiences.

One group developed a list of ways to connect the Chesapeake Bay to Standards of Learning requirements. In Kindergarten, when students learn about sorting and classification, they could learn about how to classify the living things in the Bay or the animals that populate the watershed.

Another group suggested the school could partner with Jamestown High School’s field biology class, a chance for older students to mentor younger ones. An art teacher proposed having students focus on the Chesapeake Bay in their artwork. Another teacher mentioned they could encourage Bay-related science projects for the Science Fair.

Bieri enthusiastically responded to all of their ideas, saying, “Have you all had A-Ha moments? It doesn’t have to be about science, it can be about everything.”

The day at New Quarter Park achieved many of the principal’s goals for professional development. “It’s fun, we have old friends seeing each other and making new friends, we have people making curriculum connections…” Jacobs said. “Also, out of 60 people here today, 40 didn’t know this park was here. It’s an incredible resource.”

At his invitation, Bieri will visit Matoaka in a few weeks to talk with teachers about how the lessons they incorporate in their classrooms can build knowledge from grade to grade.

After braving the kayak trip, Chandler said the difference between Thursday and previous first days of work was “night and day.” “We were able to support each other, laugh and help, have quiet time, have rowdy time,” she said. “It was relaxing.”

Basically, it was how every first day at work should be.

Providence Classical Hosts Info Session Today

Providence Classical School will offer an informational presentation about the classical, Christian school today from 3:30 to 4:30 at the Williamsburg Regional Library Theater on Scotland Street.

The presentation will be hosted by Susan Oweis, head of the school, and will feature an overview of classical education and a video. PCS now offers grades K-12, with the class of 2013 the first graduating class in the school’s history.

For more information, call 565-2900 or visit the website.

WJCC Reduces First-Day Paper

Parents of students attending Williamsburg-James City County Schools will receive a much thinner packet of papers when the first day of school ends on Sept. 4.

In response to parent requests, along with a push to save money, the division has significantly reduced the amount of forms and informational sheets that will be sent home this year. Last year, parents received 16 forms (for a total of 25 pages), but this year, they’ll only have to fill out six forms (for a total of nine pages).

That constitutes a 64 percent reduction in workload for parents, said Betsy Overkamp-Smith, spokesperson for the division.

School’s Back in Session at WCA

Williamsburg Christian Academy started the 2012-13 school year this week.

Public Relations Director shared this snapshot of the first day back to school, with Head of Elementary Jane Vaught giving a student a warm welcome.

WCA is a community-based, interdenominational Christian school that focuses on a Christ-centered college preparatory education. It offers pre-K through 12th grade.

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