Hylton Science Department Brings New Environmental Science Course to Hylton Students

Science Department Chair Susan Holczer to present at the Virginia Association of Science Teachers (VAST) Conference on Nov. 16

Students conducting a field study.

Sue Holczer

Students conducting a field study.

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This is the first year that Hylton High School and other high schools across Virginia are offering an Environmental Science course for incoming freshmen. This class is meant to provide a bridge for students who need extra support in science before taking Earth Science 1 or Biology 1. Prior to the addition of the course, Advanced Placement Environmental Science and Ecology were the only related offerings.

The Environmental Science course encourages students to evaluate what’s going on in their environment and come up with ways to improve it.

“This generation has had more awareness about environmental issues like global warming and rising sea water so they can easily connect with the content,” said Hylton Science Teacher LaRina Clark.

The Hylton Science Department was excited to introduce the course to students and welcomed professional learning opportunities to get the course up and running.

Clark said, “I really wanted to teach this course. I completed my capstone on the Critical Zone, which encompasses environmental science, so it’s right in my field.”

Clark worked with the PWCS Science Curriculum Committee to develop the proposal and guidelines for the course during the 2017-2018 school year.

The following year, Hylton Science Department Chair and Biology Teacher Susan Holczer jumped at the chance to participate in a year-long cohort that would enable her to get on the water and conduct field studies.

The year-long Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Environmental Literacy Cohort was designed to assist teachers as they develop a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) and related lessons. It is a collaborative effort between the Department of Education, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Resource Reserve and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

As part of the experience, Holczer participated in two summer sessions at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) in Gloucester and Hampton. In addition, Holczer attended a two-day institute at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond and completed an online course.

Clark also attended the VIMS in Gloucester.

“I loved being able to talk with other teachers and learn how they’re going to use the activities and labs in their own classes,” said Clark.

Throughout the program, Holczer and Clark gained hands-on experience carrying out many field studies.

“The experience teaches about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed area,” said Holczer. “We had the opportunity to go out in a boat to the ocean collecting specimens and identifying species. We also got to interact with turtles and catch crabs.”

Back in their classrooms, Holczer and Clark are creating opportunities for their students to go outside and conduct their own investigations.

“The students have been enthusiastic,” said Holczer. “They went outside and evaluated environmental aspects of nature. They looked at run-offs. Students in the course will gain a better understanding of how to do science and use field equipment to engage them meaningfully in their own backyards.”

During a recent field study, students explored the school yard and gathered samples of caterpillars, moths, bees and spiders, among other specimens. Back in the lab, they were able to analyze the samples under a microscope.

Sophomore Nilson Argueta said he has already learned so much and gained confidence using a microscope.

“We were taking leaves off the tree. We collected some insects,” said Argueta. “When we came back, we looked at them under the microscope. We found little lines and circles we didn’t realize were there. Under the microscope, the skin was red and blue.”

Freshman Samuel Lian said the class is better than the science classes he’s taken before, but his teacher makes the real difference.

“It’s fun. She teaches in a way that you don’t feel like you’re in school,” said Lian. “Mrs. Holczer always explains things with enthusiasm.”

Holczer will be presenting her learnings from the cohort at the Virginia Association of Science Teachers (VAST) conference on Nov. 16.