“We walked at sunset down a woodland path out onto the muddy marsh. We enjoyed a clear, beautiful sunset looking out over the grasses and reeds.” - Lina Fawaz ’24 and Caroline Garland ’24VIEW ALBUM »
Seventh grade students returned this week from a three-day trip to the Chesapeake Bay where they explored ecosystems and communities from environmental science and sociological perspectives. Importantly, the trip also served to foster community in 7th grade, thanks to the collaborative efforts of the grade-level advisors.
“Much of the 7th grade science curriculum is modeled around coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and nutrient loading (pollution) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said science teacher Ethan Burns. “The trip is a great opportunity to see the organisms we’ve talked about in class, to look at the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus loading, and to see the changing coastlines. It’s also a good reminder that these processes are directly impacting humans and their livelihood.”
Students also met with residents of Tangier Island, Virginia, and Tylerton on Smith Island, Maryland to discuss life on the bay. “Students were able to interview residents in these unique communities and ask them questions they came up with,” said English teacher Charles Edwards. “Many discussed how they earn a living, their pastimes, and what they love about bay life. They also heard about why so many are leaving the island.”
More than 50% of the population of the Smith Island towns have left in the last ten years. GDS students were stunned to learn that the K-12 school on Tangier Island has a total enrollment of 50 kids. There is one sophomore in the entire school.
Students had the opportunity to share back with the group what they’d learned from the residents who have stayed. Caroline Garland ’24 and Lina Fawaz ’24 explained, “During our visit to Tangier, we learned about their lifestyles and about the primary occupation in the area (waterman). Victoria [Agerskov-Townsend ’24] and Charlotte [Brody ’24] shared to the group that during one of their neighborhood interviews, a family told them their three core values are: faith, family, and work.”
The person-to-person contact in town gave students “a more holistic sociological perspective on the bay,” Charles said. History teacher Julia Blount ’08 explained, “Many students remarked that the experience gave them a chance to speak with people who are different from them.” Some of the regulations in place to mitigate the environmental impact of climate change, for example, are actually negatively impacting people’s livelihoods in these communities. On Election Day, locals in town were voting even while the students conducted their interviews. Voting preferences were certainly informed by these very different lived experiences.
Back down by the bay (where the watermelons grow), students were invited to kiss the bait fish (Menhaden) before tearing them in half to load into the crab traps. Few will forget the fish kiss. The crab-attracting oils of the fish are released better by tearing—or so they were told. Lina and Caroline recalled, “Seagulls were squawking around loudly because we were throwing the leftover fish bait after emptying the traps. It was fun out on the boat in the mid-afternoon sun.”
Students cooked together and stayed in dorms. They worked in partnerships and participated in team-building activities. The cell phone-free time also helped students immerse themselves more fully in the bay experience and be more present with their peers.
These days, the streets in Tangier flood daily with ten inches of bay water. “Even that has changed over the years since we started going,” said Elizabeth McDermott. Elizabeth—former environmental science teacher and now the Lower/Middle School nurse—was instrumental in starting this grade-level trip after GDS stopped visiting Country Campus.
Julia, an alum of the 2002 Bay Trip, found notes in the Chesapeake Bay guestbook written by her friends and classmates during her visit to the bay as a GDS 7th grader. This year’s 7th graders added their own notes to the records. “They also added pages to composition books filled with reflections from many years worth of GDS students,” Julia said.
“We learned how ecosystems interact and how different species use their five senses and population to get food,” explained Jack Farrell ’24. Lina and Caroline added, “And we learned how the marsh is a necessary filtering system for the ecosystem. It provides a habitat for many organisms, and it also prevents flooding on the higher ground where humans live.”
Students are learning hands-on techniques to assess the health of the bay in advance of their their spring research reports. The Chesapeake Bay trip tradition continues even as the landscape changes. Each year is a bittersweet experience: GDS students make important connections to the land even as that land is lost beneath the bay.
Staff writer Danny Stock tells the stories of teaching, learning, competing, creating, and performing at Georgetown Day School. He is a former GDS second grade teacher and current parent.