Can't you just see the splash coming?! Jump into professional development by participating in the Chesapeake Classrooms!
One group of Chesapeake Classrooms teachers was able to band terns with an expert from USFWS on a spit of sand near Fox Island.
Sometimes teachers get so busy trying to inform, that we squander our chances to help students form. We lose sight of what is important; my week with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation brought everything back into focus, and my goals for the new school year include taking time (and making time) to allow my students to connect with nature. The Chesapeake Classrooms course allowed me to become the student again and realize the value of these necessary experiences.
We were led by Bart Jaeger with collaboration from Shawn Ridgely, Adam Wickline and Bob Lehman. These educators love the bay. They love it because they know it, and they know the bay because they experience it with every fiber of their being; I think brackish water must flow along with the blood that runs through their veins. I would be willing to bet that they are truly at their happiest when totally immersed in the bioregion of the Chesapeake Bay.
We started the week’s study at the Horn Point Laboratory (outside Cambridge, MD) learning about the lab’s role in indentifying solutions for restoring the bay which include researching submerged aquatic vegetation, and providing the largest hatchery on the East Coast for developing oyster spat used to re-seed depleted oyster beds. We gleaned plenty of information to keep us thinking, questioning, and connecting the vital work being performed at the lab with our experiences throughout the week.
I car-pooled with 3 colleagues, and we continued driving through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. We all marveled as I braked for a heron and egret as they gracefully lifted their long legs, searching for food at the road’s edge. Since the road went directly through the marsh (and is occasionally underwater at high tide), extra caution was needed when driving. This gave us an opportunity to slow down and observe; this was a fitting and important prelude to the entire week.
We chose our sleeping quarters, and met Shawn at the dock for a crab-pot-setting cruise. After boarding the Karen N., we motored out to Hooper Strait in the Tangier Sound. Shawn and Bart led a discussion on the history, anatomy and benefits of the fish we were using for crab bait; the lowly menhaden has an important role in the ecosystem, yet there are few limits to prevent over-fishing which has led to disruptions in the food chain.
The baiting/setting process was quite a production for us: flip the pot, bait the trap, secure the bait-trap, remove and unwind the float, secure the opening, toss the float, wait for the signal, toss the pot. And that was just setting them; we’d need to do all the steps in reverse when collecting them the next afternoon with the added steps of hooking and pulling up the pots. We all gained new respect for the watermen who do this day in and day out, often alone.
After dinner, Bart guided us through the development of our organizing question: How has the change in the natural and social systems had an effect on the health of the Chesapeake Bay? Already, the experiences from the afternoon and evening were helping us formulate a response. We found that we were steadily refining the question and looking at it from different points of view as the learning continued throughout the week. Aren’t we like our students; don’t we want them to form opinions and responses based on thorough consideration?
The next day brought canoeing, marsh mucking, bay wading, shore exploring, a trip to Deal Island, oyster dredging, a crab feast, and a light show provided by mother nature. The canoeing, mucking, wading and exploring were all combined in our study of the natural system of the marsh as we discovered its value, purpose and function. On closer inspection, we found that there was a diversity of vegetation and animals and a discussion of interdependence followed. The experiences of this day were empowering; don’t we want our students to gain and feel the empowerment of accomplishing goals that may have previously been denied because of fear or lack of exposure to an activity? Isn’t a stronger sense of self an essential goal for all students?
Our trek to Fox Island would be by way of proggin’ on Holland Island, passing South Marsh Island and the Martin Wildlife Refuge, and visiting the communities on Smith Island. These events brought us face-to-face with the ‘social systems’ portion of our organizing question; these communities are shrinking just as quickly as the erosion is claiming the shoreline. Our visit allowed us to see firsthand the fierce pride and determination that embody the Islanders. While we question the affects of the social and natural systems on the health of the Bay, one cannot help but wonder about the influences of the social and natural systems upon each other.
Our arrival at the final destination on Fox Island required transferring to a skiff with a shallow draw; the tide would not allow our boat to venture beyond the channel. Adam met us and prepared us for the most challenging part of the week—learning to live simply. The lack of distractions allowed us to take advantage of simple pleasures such as marveling at the ability of the comb jellies to glow when agitated and wonder about the feeder fish attracted to a battery operated spotlight lowered into the water. We had the time to take on the persona of the hunters that used Fox Island as we canoed into the duck blinds the next day and explored nearby marsh islands. We watched with awe (and a little fear) as an evening storm approached and inundated the lodge. With all manmade distractions (and conveniences) stripped away, it was a chance to reconnect with nature and find the wholeness that we often don’t realize is even missing. Fox Island is magical to me; it provided a means to “strengthen the core skills underlying all learning: concentration, observation, relaxation, and open, receptive awareness with a positive, curious attitude.” (McHenry and Brady, 2009) As a class, our best discussions and exchanges happened at Fox. At our final group meeting, Bart encouraged us to use what we’ve learned and experienced to influence how we teach our students: “You’re good enough. You’re strong enough. People like you. Make it happen.” I feel privileged to have been on such an inspiring adventure! As teachers, don’t we all want to have that kind of positive impact on our students?
A plaque on a bench by the dock at Fox put everything in perspective: ‘Open Spaces, Sacred Places’. What a perfect setting to sort things out and focus on the impact of our actions. We were given the opportunity to see the big picture and come to the realization that we have more power than we know. We may now have more questions than answers, but we are able to ask them through a filter of respect for this fragile, vulnerable, one-of-a-kind, no-other-place-on-earth crossroads that has retained its ‘wildness’. I look forward to helping my students find meaningful, authentic learning experiences in nature; wild is the way!