Seven Newport News schools are recognized as Virginia Naturally Schools
for supporting environmental conservation and stewardship. Virginia Naturally Schools is the official environmental education school recognition program of the Commonwealth, administered by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with support from the Department of Education, Department of Environmental Quality and other resource agencies. Deer Park Elementary earned the recognition for the fourth time and Marshall Early Learning Center is named a Virginia Naturally School for the second consecutive year. Five schools earned the designation for the first time: Denbigh Early Childhood Center, Discovery STEM Academy, Nelson Elementary, Sedgefield Elementary and Booker T. Washington Middle. This is the largest number of Newport News public schools to receive the Virginia Naturally designation.
Students and staff at each of the award-winning schools contribute to environmental conservation. Working with numerous community partners, Deer Park Elementary students planted Spartina grass in their grow labs and later brought the plants to the banks of the Elizabeth River in Chesapeake. The grass grown will help prevent erosion along the river's edge, filter water from runoff and provide a habitat and food for a variety of animals.
Marshall Early Learning Center is expanding their outdoor learning space with additional raised beds and a pumpkin patch. The school has also partnered with local Sierra Club members to share updates on air quality, and have received a grant for an indoor aquaponics system.
Denbigh Early Childhood Center established a classroom-based recycling program, created a partnership with Norfolk Botanical Gardens, installed a rain barrel and established a garden and outdoor classroom.
At Discovery STEM Academy, third-grade students led a Trex Bag recycling program to stop plastic from entering local waterways and plan to expand this program to the entire school. The school will have a dashboard that students can view to monitor water and electricity usage, and how it affects the school's carbon footprint.Master gardeners and master naturalists trained the staff at Nelson to raise monarch butterflies in their classrooms. Classes took on various projects to enhance and manage the upkeep of the school garden.
Sedgefield Elementary School students and staff created a design challenge and mapped the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which includes Newmarket Creek. Students learned about drainage issues due to rainfall and how to best manage stormwater. The school has received two grants to better improve stormwater management on school grounds, which included planting trees and bushes as well as further education on the subject.
As part of the Marine Science magnet program at Booker T. Washington Middle, students participated in a Virginia Marine Science program by growing wild celery to help with Chesapeake Bay shoreline restoration as well as raising oysters to be released to a sanctuary reef in the York River.
The Virginia Board of Education has recognized the Virginia Naturally School program as the official environmental education school recognition program for the state. Seventy Virginia schools earned the Virginia Naturally School Recognition Award for their stewardship during the 2016-17 school year. Schools must submit a plan for the following year and carry it through in addition to meeting additional criteria in order to be recognized in additional years.