By. Meghan Raftery, Virginia Beach City Public Schools
Late summer and early fall are great seasons for schools to reach out to their communities and create mutually beneficial partnerships. In Virginia Beach City Public Schools, several innovative partnerships are beginning to take form for the 2017-2018 school year.
A group of assistant principals, representing Three Oaks, Strawbridge, Red Mill, and North Landing elementary schools and Kellam High School, boarded a bus this summer to learn about partnership opportunities related to sustainability and environmental stewardship. They visited New Earth Farm, an award-winning, 21-acre, working, sustainable education farm located in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Through cover crops and crop and chicken rotation, the farm actively seeks to build the healthiest soil possible. The assistant principals toured the farm with Matthias Resch, New Earth Farm’s public outreach and education coordinator, to learn about the farm’s new initiatives that range from plans for a green roof on the education building and construction in the new market building to biochar production and a composting scheme.
As a result of the tour, the assistant principals are exploring many possibilities to partner with New Earth Farm, including creating a sensory garden for an elementary school, creating a design contest for high school students to build raised garden beds for local elementary schools, and finding ways to deliver school cafeteria food waste to the farm to create compost that can be used in school gardens. Inspired by peers who attended the tour, staff at Landstown Elementary will have students research the ecologically conscious pest management and intercropping practices of New Earth’s sister farm in Southeast Haiti to assist in creating symbol-based, agri-tourism signage for farm visitors to better navigate the property.
Bayside Middle School teachers are also getting their students involved in partnerships with support from a Hansen Family Foundation grant. Working with the Virginia Beach Education Foundation’s Beach Bags program, which provides shelf-stable food to students who might otherwise go hungry over weekends and school breaks, and Gina Foresta from Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads, students will plan a school garden to grow fresh produce to include in Beach Bags provided to students. Based on expert advice from the community, students will determine what to grow and how to plant it. They will also create a plan for maintaining the garden.
Starting the year with sustainability in mind ensures a conceptually rich opportunity for students to be good stewards of their community’s future. These mutually beneficial partnerships not only strengthen the work and outreach of area businesses and organizations, but provide relevant and engaging educational experiences for students while building a greater sense of place throughout Virginia Beach to benefit the entire community. The benefits of an engaged community are limitless, and these innovative, sustainable partnerships will certainly have far-reaching influence in people’s lives from Virginia Beach to Southeast Haiti.
Meghan Raftery (@meg5han) serves as the School/Community Partnerships Coordinator for Virginia Beach City Public Schools and, along with her husband and two sons, is a proud citizen of Virginia Beach, Virginia. Before moving to the area in 2009, Meghan taught second and fourth grades in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Since that time, she has worked as an elementary gifted resource teacher, K-12 curriculum instructional specialist, and elementary social studies coordinator for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Her primary interests include curriculum development and professional learning about authentic learning experiences centered around community problems. She can be reached at Meghan.Raftery@vbschools.com.