Students at City Schools learn about the natural world through experiential learning projects that take them outside to the schoolyard and beyond.
Journey North Tulip Project
First and second graders at all elementary schools participate in the Journey North tulip project, an international science experiment where students across the northern hemisphere plant tulip bulbs in their Journey North Test Gardens each fall. When the plants emerge and bloom, the children input their observations online to announce that spring has arrived in their part of the world.
Students discover the relationship between climate and geography as they watch the arrival of spring move across the globe. More at the Journey North website.
All CCS 4th grade students take a field trip to Camp Albemarle to learn about watershed issues through field-based activities. The students use large nets called kick seines to capture macroinvertebrates living in the sediment bottom of the Moorman’s River. Different macroinvertebrates are found in healthy and unhealthy waterways. As the students identify the macroinvertebrates they capture, they are able to rate the river's water quality.
At Camp Albemarle, the 4th graders also examine 3D small-scale models of watersheds known as Enviroscapes. The Enviorscapes tangibly demonstrate the concept of a watershed and how land use and various types of pollution affect water quality.
The Enviroscape lesson is followed by soil box experiments where the students test the erosion capacity of bare soil and soil covered with plants or mulch. The experiments provide a visual demonstration of how water quality is improved when plants help filter run-off. Throughout the Camp Albemarle visit, students use creativity and their five senses to record the sights, smells and sound of nature and express their impressions through poems, sketches and narratives about their day.
City Schoolyard Garden
In 2012, City Schoolyard Garden was invited by Charlottesville City Schools superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins to embark on a plan for building or enlarging schoolyard gardens in all six of the city’s elementary schools. This request came at the recognition of the successful pilot garden program City Schoolyard Garden has operated at Buford Middle School since 2010. City Schoolyard Garden works in partnership with Charlottesville City Schools to cultivate academic achievement, health, environmental stewardship and community engagement through garden-based, experiential learning. City Schoolyard Garden is a non-profit organization operating independently of the Charlottesville City Schools, though in close partnership with the division in developing opportunities for a district wide project-based learning initiative.
Buford Schoolyard Garden
At Buford Middle School, students have year-round access to an organic garden classroom. The City Schoolyard Garden at Buford is fully integrated into the seventh grade science curriculum and provides curricular opportunities for the school’s eighth grade. A fulltime Garden Educator leads students as they practice organic gardening and relate lessons learned in the garden to concepts in ecology and life science, verbal and written communication, biology, cooking, art and marketing. In the summer, youth from the nearby the Boys & Girls Club help maintain the garden and learn how to grow vegetables.
Burnley-Moran Schoolyard Garden
Under the leadership of garden coordinator and parent Matt Darring, the garden at Burnley-Moran is gaining ground. Recent workdays have had volunteers double digging garden beds, cutting and hauling sod, building benches and spreading mulch. Matt is guiding the garden design toward a Jeffersonian feel, complete with an octagonal garden classroom, since the “little mountain” is visible from the garden site. Students are planting in beds arranged in Jefferson’s 1812 layout of roots, fruits, leaves and an added “fallow” bed. Students planted spinach on 2/22, and the third grades are participating in a friendly competition among all the elementary schools, "First Peas to the Table,” modeled on Jefferson’s desire to grow and harvest the first pea.
Clark Schoolyard Garden
At Clark, directed by garden coordinator and parent, Eiley Patterson, students, parents and volunteers have created a vegetable garden of six raised beds on the site of a former playground area at the front of the school. In addition and as a complement to the cultivated garden, parent volunteers and the school librarian, Mary Craig, have designed a wildlife garden. Mary holds an afterschool club with students who are planting and observing the wildlife garden. Clark's garden committee meets monthly to discuss goals and agendas for teachers on how to continue engaging students in garden planting and future garden expansion. UVa students, working at Clark under a Jefferson Public Scholars Grant, have hosted an afterschool “Be Well” Club, integrating garden activities and lessons on nutrition and whole foods into club activities. Chickens visited the school during a special event this fall and first grade students held and fed the chickens and learned first hand where eggs come from!
Greenbrier Schoolyard Garden
Greenbrier has a long history of tending two courtyard gardens and introducing students to the joys of fresh vegetables. A new and larger vegetable garden at Greenbrier is now under construction with the deer fence nearing completion and garden beds in place. Garden coordinator, landscape arcitect and parent Anne Russell has not let the planting season slip by. She has directed students in planting rows of kale, winter peas, garlic and cover crop that are readily visible beneath the cover of March snow. Parent volunteers are designing a garden blog for the Greenbrier garden that will showcase the community effort that has gone into building the garden this fall and spring. Greenbrier third grades are also participating in the “First Peas to the Table” planting activity and hoping to taste some yummy peas around the first week in May.
Jackson-Via Schoolyard Garden
Jackson-Via has one of the longest standing garden sites of the six elementary schools with eight raised vegetable beds and native fruit tree planting on the school grounds. Garden coordinator and landscape architect Jessica Primm is responsible for creating a master plan for the 20.6 acre grounds at Jackson-Via that include, in addition to the vegetable garden, an edible hedge, woodland trails, a meadow garden, a pollinator garden and a soon to be completed “owl habitat” meadow on the edge of the big woods on site. Second graders are preparing for a compost project by learning how compost is made and then, beginning the last week of March, planting lettuce seeds in the “leaf” bed of the garden as an introduction to compost and soil fertility. Kindergarteners will plant a “root” bed in mid-March. Jessica has coalesced a diversity of community groups, including J.W. Townsend, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Albemarle Garden Club to assist with the various habitat and gardening projects at Jackson-Via this year.
Johnson Schoolyard Garden
Dan Sweet, parent and landscape architect, has taken on the task of creating a garden for Johnson that will be built based on design input from the entire Johnson community. Construction of the garden deer fence is presently underway, and Dan is planning a series of design charettes to further involve parents, teachers and students in the details of the garden layout and design. Four raised garden beds, constructed with assistance from UVA students participating in outreach through the Batten School of Public Policy, “Batten Builds,” are planted with garlic and a winter cover crop. In addition, six former raised beds are being put to use in the “First Peas to the Table” activity the third grade students are undertaking, as well as home to plantings of arugula and radishes. Exciting activities are taking place indoors at Johnson as well: three classrooms have active worm bins, and third grade students are planting chard, kale and spinach in peat pots for transplanting outdoors this spring. The CLASS afterschool students are hard at work on painting a large sign for the Johnson garden.
Venable Schoolyard Garden
Another elementary school garden with longevity, Venable’s lovely garden “courtyard” site is unique in its size and diversity of garden elements. Garden coordinator, parent and landscape architect Sara Osborne has contributed to a truly wonderful walled garden in a niche at the back of the school building. With four raised garden beds, a rainwater catchment system, compost pile and pollinator garden, Sara manages class rotations through the garden and plans planting schedules for PE classes who plant the early spring vegetable seeds. Students may choose to join in an afterschool club that Sara leads teaching children the joys of gardening, including keeping garden journals, starting seeds indoors for sale at the spring fair, tending worm bins, building bird feeders and designing garden shirts. This spring, UVA Global Sustainability students are teaming up with the fourth grade science classes to design and construct a greenhouse of recycled materials – a unique partnership that will allow Venable eligibility for the upcoming Siemans Change the World Grant.
Solar Photovoltaic Array on CHS
In spring 2011, the City of Charlottesville was awarded a grant from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to install a solar photovoltaic system on a section of roof at Charlottesville High School. A group of teachers is working with the City’s facilities maintenance staff to develop plans for integrating the system into curriculum and instruction.
McIntire Park Herpetofauna Survey
Through this project, CHS biology students conducted a herpetofauna (amphibian and reptile species) survey of McIntire Park. They used their data to create a herptofauna field guide for the Park and a GIS map of the Park indicating the distribution of species, habitat parameters, and recreational usage, among many other thematic layers.
BACON “Best All-Around Club of Nerds”
The CHS Science Club's (aka BACON, Best All-around Club of Nerds) many accomplishments include placing second in the 2013 MIT-NASA Zero Robotics US Tournament and being the Top Team in NASA’s 2011 Balloonsat High Altitude Flight competition. BACON projects take club members outside and around the globe to explore and compete in science investigations.
Learning Outside the Bricks
Design professionals at the Charlottesville Community Design Center’s Design Marathon in 2009 created a master plan for outdoor learning on the 20+ acre property of Jackson-Via Elementary School. The master plan includes 10+ acres of woodland, edible gardens, habitat gardens, and spaces where children can learn and appreciate the natural world while meeting curriculum goals. An already completed mini-meadow installation consists primarily of butterfly host and nectar plants, using 99% native plant material. The mini-meadow will eventually be part of a larger "meadow walk." The group also plans to plant a child-size orchard of sour cherry and pawpaw trees.