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School started early last week for 21 principals and administrators from Fairfax County public schools who participated in a three-day educational trip on the Chesapeake Bay.

Through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, these educators participated in an intensive workshop on bringing environmental education into their schools and the school district.

From July 30 to Aug. 1, participants lived and worked on the Port Isobel and Tangier islands in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as a part of a principals program CBF offers in conjunction with the Fairfax County school system.

While the nonprofit dedicated to protecting the Chesapeake Bay offers courses open to teachers and administrators in all states surrounding the bay, FCPS is the only school system that partners with the organization to provide courses specifically for its employees.

In addition to the principals program, CBF scheduled two five-day trips for Fairfax County teachers this summer. One took place in June; the other runs Aug. 11-15.

“People need a body of knowledge about the environment and a willingness to take action,” said Elaine Tholen, environmental educator for the school system. “That’s what we’re trying to give our students and our staff.”

Tholen has attended the administrators trip through CBF for the past seven years. Next week’s trip will mark her third trip with Fairfax County teachers.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Chesapeake Bay education grant program funds the principals course, allowing school administrators to attend free of charge. CBF does charge a $300 fee for the teachers programs, but Fairfax County has covered the cost for its teachers the last few years, Tholen said.

The Chesapeake Bay courses encourage educators to bring environmental education, particularly the issues relating to the bay’s watershed, into their classrooms. Fairfax County falls in the bay’s watershed, and the programs allow teachers and principals to explore not only the environmental but also economic and cultural aspects of life on the bay.

During last week’s course, principals talked with Tangier Island residents about their way of life, caught crabs in crab pots and scraped nets along the bottom of the bay to get a first-hand look at the creatures living in the water.

“We pulled up fish, crabs, oysters, seahorses,” Tholen said. “It really gives people a sense of all the things that are right there.”

While out on the bay, participants not only gain hands-on environmental learning experience themselves, they create action plans to bring their experiences back to their students.

This year marked Lanier Middle School Principal Scott Poole’s second year attending the program. Last year he literally wanted to bring a person back to his school.

Poole was amazed by Charles Parks, the captain of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation boat that transported the principals to Port Isobel and Tangier Island. Parks is a retired waterman who has lived on Tangier Island all his life.

However, plans to have Parks visit Lanier hit a snag: lifelong islander Parks has never driven a car. So instead Poole set up a Skype session between Parks and a group of Lanier students.

Poole came away so invigorated from his hands-on learning experience on the Bay last year that he decided to attend the course again.

“This trip reminded me of how powerful experiential learning is,” Poole said. “We went crabbing, we set traps, we picked them up. We talked with bay experts, with watermen. I hope as a principal that I can work with my staff to infuse that type of education into our curriculum.”