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Students learn about the Elizabeth River thanks to mobile 'field trip' that comes to them

barge on wheels.jpg
Posted at 4:08 AM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 07:19:01-04

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- A group of fourth graders at Western Branch Intermediate School had a field trip, but it was not a typical field trip. In fact, they have not had one because of the pandemic.

“I felt bad, terrible, awful,” one student remarked.

This field trip, however, came to the students Wednesday morning as they congregated outside near the parking lot. On this so-called "field trip," the class of about 10 children learned about the Elizabeth River, its ecology, animals and green energy.

It was all put on by the Elizabeth River Project's Learning Barge on Wheels.

“Teaching the students makes me extremely happy because we get to provide the first nature experience for them,” Summer Mace, the Learning Barge’s manager, said.

Mace gave their teacher a break and took over teaching the children.

“At the start of the pandemic, we were really sad that the students could no longer take field trips to our learning barge docked in Norfolk,” Mace said. “They have grown up right next to the river and within a five-mile radius and have never been to the river or experienced the river."

The Elizabeth River Project’s equipment and other teaching tools they used came on board the mobile barge, which was made possible by a $25,000 grant from Dominion Energy.

“Something like this is important now more than ever now that most of the students had been learning from home on the computer for most of the school year," Mace said.

The students were not just listening to Mace and her teaching assistants; they were also having a hands-on approach such as holding some of the animals, including a spider crab.

“I think a hands-on component does add a huge component to the learning,” said Adrienne Sawyer, the supervisor of Elementary Sciences for Chesapeake Public Schools, “to make it more exciting than perhaps if they were just sitting in a classroom and didn’t have this opportunity."

The kids participated in the activities and were engaged with what they were learning. They answer questions and also moved around to learn something new.

“It was really cool. I loved it when we were checking out the crabs and stuff. Crabs are my favorite," said Thomas Perry, one of the students.

"I was a little bit sad because I couldn’t go there,” Clinton Cason, another student, said. "This was fun and great."

These children were just some of the 130 fourth graders who will be learning from this impromptu field trip. Sawyer said another group of third graders will be participating virtually.

“I hope they walk away with a new appreciation of the river,” Mace said.