What Happens at The Chesapeake Bay Doesn’t Stay at The Chesapeake Bay

September 20, 2016
September 20, 2016

What Happens at The Chesapeake Bay Doesn’t Stay at The Chesapeake Bay

Notes from a Field Trip with Valuable Lessons on Science, Conservation – and Life
By Tamie Campbell, Assistant Head of School

In my now three years here at Grymes, I’ve experienced some pretty incredible opportunities for experiential learning, and I have to say the seventh grade Chesapeake Bay trip is one of my favorites. Last week I accompanied chaperones Rebekah Lingo and Tracey Stakem and 13 seventh graders on the annual three-day trip to the Karen Noonan Memorial Environmental Education Center, located at Bishops Head in Maryland’s Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. This trip has become a much-loved tradition for Grymes seventh graders – Grymes has been taking seventh graders on the trip to the Chesapeake Bay since 1989!

While acronyms like STEM (and STEAM) are “trendy” buzz words in education today, this kind of hands-on experiential learning has been a Grymes tradition for over thirty years.

During the three-day trip, we engaged in a wide variety of hands-on activities and scientific investigations that included (among others) dredging for oysters on one of the few remaining oyster reefs, setting crab pots by canoe, observing a wide range of plant and animal species and then recording species’ names in the Center’s journal, identifying and sorting “critters” that included a variety of grasses, blue crabs, and brine shrimp (among many others),  and “marsh mucking.” Students enjoyed catching and “kissing” fish, hiking by moonlight and becoming covered head-to-toe in mud while learning about the importance of camouflage through group competitions.


Throughout our three-day stay at the Center, we all engaged in a number of “challenges” that forced the group to work together as a team to conserve electricity, limit water usage and reduce waste. For the entirety of the stay, we were challenged to limit our water usage to less than five gallons per person a day (unfortunately, that meant no showers for three days, which did make living with middle schoolers for a stretch of time interesting… I am pleased to share, though, that the composting “clivus” toilets at the center are quite sophisticated, so we weren’t roughing it too terribly) and the use of electricity was carefully monitored through a high stakes game of “electricity baseball” (Three strikes and you’re out! Fortunately, we all helped to make sure lights were turned out as rooms were vacated, so we never did learn what happens with the electricity after strike three.)


Waste was almost completely eliminated due to the Center’s “no slop” rule at meals; the responsibility of acting as “slop cop” to reduce garbage was shared amongst students, as was the job of reading food containers to investigate food sources and track the carbon footprint of the food on the daily menu.

How can a textbook convey the briny smell in the air, the rough texture of the marsh grasses, the sound a bird makes as it crashes through the surface of water and comes up with a fish?

The value of this kind of hands-on experiential learning to supplement the upper school science curriculum is immeasurable. The science lessons alone – observation, keeping a field journal, using sophisticated scientific tools, taking measurements, sharing hypotheses – are so important. For students to experience the watershed they are studying in their curriculum first-hand is so incredibly powerful to their learning. After all, how can a textbook convey the briny smell in the air, the rough texture of the marsh grasses, the sound a bird makes as it crashes through the surface of water and comes up with a fish?

We were all touched by the lessons about conservation. We were constantly challenged to think about the impact of our behaviors on the environment, and the layers of understanding had a visible effect on how the students considered themselves and their habits. When simple things like leaving the lights on after walking out of a room – things that we all do so mindlessly in our day-to-day lives – are directly tied to the ecology right outside the door, it’s hard not to stop and think more carefully about your footprint on the world. Even the “no slop” rule had an immediate impact – when you are asked to literally lick your plate clean to reduce waste and cut water usage, you think more carefully about how much food you put on your plate.


Most impactful in my mind is the sense of teamwork, of living outside the comfort zone, and of accomplishment that every one of us experienced. Students on this trip are challenged to live, work and think differently than they’re used to, and the takeaways will stick with them. A trip like this gives students a fresh perspective on their impact on the world around them. Everything from food consumption, to water usage and taking only what you need, to the sense of pride in having taken on some pretty startling challenges together as a team… All of it makes for a wonderful, positive experience for seventh grade students who are just starting to take on a real leadership role in the school community.

These are not just science lessons; they’re life lessons.


Tamie Campbell is Assistant Head of School.
This was her second year chaperoning The Chesapeake Bay trip.