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JRA's education team has been conducting virtual environmental education lessons live on the river, including a trawl net sampling with blue catfish, channel catfish, carp, and white perch. Photo: James River Association/Facebook

Hybrid Learning Grant Brings James River to Students

The James River Association (JRA) will be able to bring virtual field trips to every public school sixth-grade student in Newport News, thanks to a new National Park Foundation grant.

JRA and 31 other park partners received the Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning grant, allowing the association to offer environmental lessons focused on the natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These virtual field trips will give students a unique perspective during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“The James River Association is excited to partner with the National Park Foundation to provide field trips with Newport News Public Schools” said Katie Ferrell, JRA’s Lower James Senior Environmental Educator.

Ferrell highlights the virtual lessons and field experiences JRA has been able to develop in Jamestown’s Colonial National Historical Park. “During this Spring semester, JRA environmental educators created four different curriculum lessons (Watersheds, Wetlands, Living Shorelines, and Water Quality) that each met the Virginia SOL middle school standards, and each lesson was turned into a virtual trip with videos that help showcase the amazing NPS.”

The association was able to reach 1,066 students from seven middle schools this spring. The newly-announced funding will make possible lessons that emphasize issues relevant to the local watersheds of Newport News, “a city that struggles with negative environmental impacts on its already economically disadvantaged communities,” JRA says. The program aligns with Virginia’s science standards of learning and allows for student-focused investigations to promote environmental literacy.

Beginning in September 2020, as the pandemic shifted how and where students were learning, the National Park Foundation (NPF) worked with the National Park Service to design the Open OutDoors for Kids Hybrid Learning program. NPF has engaged more than a million students in educational programs connecting them with national parks since 2011, and aims to engage another million over the next four year.

“National parks are America’s largest classrooms, and the National Park Foundation is committed to helping students, teachers, and families navigate learning during the pandemic and beyond,” said NPF President and CEO Will Shafroth.

-Meg Walburn Viviano