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Saving the Bay | Virginia Beach high schoolers take on environmental research in untraditional classroom

In Part 4 of our 'Saving the Bay' series, students at the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach are taking a new approach to their education.

It’s not exactly your typical classroom.

At the Brock Environmental Center of Lynnhaven Bay in Virginia Beach, the class walls look a lot different than the standard school environment. But an untraditional classroom is only fitting for an untraditional year.

The 2020-2021 academic school year marked the first year for a new environmental studies program for the Virginia Beach City Schools division. A partnership between the division and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that allows students to earn an environmental studies credit by completing research, data gathering and hands-on experiences at the Brock Center. 

Swapping education from books, by learning directly from nature.

“This is the very first year we’ve been in operation! Which is crazy to think about opening something like this in the throws of COVID," Program Director for Christopher Freeman told 13News Now in a mid-April class session. 

In 2020, the Foundation's State of the Bay report graded the Chesapeake Bay a "D+" with an overall score of 32. Freeman said that with the environmental issues still present in the Bay, it's never been more important for the next generation to take an interest in wanting to preserve the environment. 

“This really is the starting point of a discussion our superintendent, a lot of stakeholders, to try and redefine what learning looks like in this region.”

At the time when 13News Now joined the students for a mid-April classroom session, the class makeup was forty-five students representing every high school across the Virginia Beach school division. Hands-on learning included tree coring, water testing and more. 

Freeman said it's less about the letter grade at the end of the semester, but the journey along the way. 

“What exciting outcomes can students get if they’re not in a traditional learning environment?”

For the 2021-2022 academic year, the program is already at full capacity with 50 students.