Nassawadox, VA — The Nature Conservancy has announced that its Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) program has been awarded a grant for more than $326,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for its ongoing Outreach and Education Program through NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education & Training Program (B-WET). An additional $194,000 in matching funds was provided by The Volgenau Foundation for a total of $520,000. The partnership between the NOAA B-WET program and VCR is intended to help fund and expand the education program through the first half of 2021.

The VCR Outreach and Education program provides meaningful watershed educational experiences for Accomack and Northampton county students on Virginia’s Eastern Shore at the 5th, 7th, and 10th grade levels. Through curriculum-based trips, students practice scientific data collection and analysis in different Eastern Shore ecosystems, including on one of Virginia’s barrier islands. In addition, the program provides week-long workshops for educators to help them establish classroom-based curriculum that is supported by the field trips. These workshops also ensure that both the classwork and trips are collaboratively shaped to line up with Virginia’s Standards of Learning (S.O.L.’s)

“Our program is designed to provide students with meaningful scientific field experiences at multiple points through their school career to make a real impact on their education, but we also want them to come away with a strong sense of place,” said Jill Bieri, Director of the Virginia Coast Reserve. “Many of those participating in the program – student and teacher alike – have lived on Virginia’s Eastern Shore without ever experiencing many of the natural features that make it so unique and special. “The grants and partnership with NOAA’s B-WET program and The Volgenau Foundation will help us inspire generations of Eastern Shore residents to appreciate and protect the place they call home.”

More than 700 students and 70 teachers have taken part in VCR’s education program since it began trips and workshops in 2015. With the expansion of the program through the B-WET grant, VCR will be able to accommodate more than 4,600 students and 400 teachers over the next three years.

“The Nature Conservancy did an outstanding job working with our new teachers,” said Accomack County School Superintendent Chris Holland.  We appreciate all that they did to introduce our new teachers to the watershed and the Barrier Islands. The Virginia Coast Reserve’s education program will be a great resource for our students as well.”

The NOAA B-WET Program is an environmental education program that promotes locally relevant, authentic experiential STEM learning for K-12 students and teachers through competitive grants to foster and grow environmental education partnerships in watersheds all over the country. In the Chesapeake Bay region, the program supports hands-on watershed education for students and teachers to increase environmental literacy and promote Bay stewardship among new generations.

“We’re delighted to provide NOAA B-WET funding to support The Nature Conservancy on this project,” said Sean Corson, acting director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. “Their thoughtful approach to integrating environmental field investigations with middle and high school classroom instruction will ensure that for years to come Accomack and Northampton students will learn the skills necessary to be stewards of the abundant natural resources on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.”