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Ecology School Ignites Love of the James

Have you ever spent the night on an island in the middle of the James River? Have you ever kissed a fish? Or have you ever cared enough about the water in the James River to conduct water quality tests and make changes in your daily life? I’d like to introduce you to Micah, Jacob and Carlos - several students from All Saints Catholic School who recently accomplished all of these things. Science Matters caught up with them on an overnight trip to the James River Ecology School, at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, a fantastic educational resource created by the James River Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the only residential learning center dedicated to youth of the James River Watershed. Check out this Science Matters video to see how these students enjoyed this wet and wonderful program and - don’t tell the kids - but everything is correlated to the Virginia Standards of Learning. What would you like your kids to learn at the Ecology School this year?

Each year as many as two thousand 5th- 12th grade students, their teachers and chaperones explore the James River through the Ecology School housed at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, a 1,329 acre island in the James that has limited public access. The Ecology School offers overnight and day programs that immerse students in hands-on river based environmental experiences. The action packed journey begins on the James River Association’s education boat, a 40 foot Coast Guard certified pontoon boat, where you get to conduct tests on the health of the James River. Once you arrive on the island highly trained Ecology School staff lead groups of students in exploring the expansive freshwater tidal creeks and wetlands, fields and forests.  In addition to its lush natural habitats the wildlife refuge offers 6 miles of land and water trails, wetland walkways, a canoe launch, the Menenak Discovery Center’s labs, classrooms and dining hall and an environmentally friendly bunkhouse.

Learning all about the nature that surrounds us is important on these trips, but so is experiencing green building and sustainable elements such as a kid-powered/bicycle water pump, rainwater harvesting for household purposes, solar hot water, and composting toilets to name a few of the innovations at the site. 

Jessica Templeton, James River Association’s Educational Program manager explains, “We challenge students to think about their role within the environment - not separate from it. We want them to be able to think about what they can do to protect the James by conserving water, conserving energy and taking action. So that hopefully they can go out into the world as stewards of the James River - here today as well as in the future.”

The mission of the James River Ecology School is

to connect youth with river-based learning experiences that inspire confidence, ecological understanding, nature appreciation, and conservation action.”

Looking at this group of students from All Saints Catholic School, I would say mission accomplished.

Click here for more on the James River Ecology School or to register a group.

Click here for the James River Association’s Educational Program Catalog (PDF).

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