The Gunston School Launches Chesapeake Watershed Semester Program

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Last week, Gunston’s Board of Trustees formally approved the launch of a new, ambitious, and important educational endeavor: the Chesapeake Watershed Semester. This fully-accredited, semester-long program for high school juniors and seniors will welcome eight to twelve Gunston students in its inaugural pilot year, and will seek to welcome students from around the region and beyond in future years. Utilizing the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed as the foundation for an immersive, rigorous, and interdisciplinary curriculum, and with a strong focus on the domains of environmental science, public policy, and sustainability, the Chesapeake Watershed Semester (CWS) is the only secondary school program of its kind. The inaugural semester will commence this August.

More than two years in the planning, and borrowing from Gunston’s 20-plus years of innovative Chesapeake Bay Studies programming, CWS will offer students extraordinary learning and life experiences. Within the intensive fifteen-week program, students spend nearly a third of their time on various leadership expeditions and field experiences, ranging from a trip to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, to seminars with public policy leaders in Annapolis and Washington, to an extended tour of the energy-producing regions of Pennsylvania, to a multi-day stay on the ecologically fragile Tangier Island, where the impacts of sea level rise can be observed first-hand.  Meanwhile, rigorous classroom, lab, and research project work will deepen each student’s academic foundation, leading to a capstone action project to be publicly presented at the end of the program. We expect that each cohort of CWS students will emerge as reflective and confident scholars and leaders who can support regional and global environmental sustainability through their understanding of scientific, social, cultural, and political systems.

CWS will be directed by Ms. Emily Beck, Gunston’s current Director of Sustainability and Bay Studies, as well as a Biology and Environmental Science teacher. Under Beck’s leadership the program has engaged a diverse group of formal institutional partners, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Sultana Education Foundation, The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Lab, Washington College’s Center for the Environment and Society, Echo Hill Outdoor School, and the Harry Hughes Center for AgroEcology, among others.  To further support the program, CWS has also established an advisory board that includes key community members and a diversity of Chesapeake watershed subject experts, including several members of Gunston’s Board of Trustees and parent community.  Curriculum development retreats have already been held, and the formal educational program is being developed by an innovative group of Gunston faculty and leadership team members.

As Gunston’s Headmaster John Lewis commented, “Without question, there is tremendous urgency for educational programs like the Chesapeake Watershed Semester, and it is designed to prepare students to meet the complex challenges of our era.” Details about the CWS mission, philosophy, and program, as well as admissions information, is comprehensively articulated on the program’s website: www.chesapeakebaywatershedsemester.org

The Gunston School, a co-ed independent college preparatory school, offers an intellectually rigorous, highly personalized, and nurturing college preparatory educational experience. Valuing a healthy balance between mind and body, a strong sense of community, the creative process, and our connection to the Chesapeake Bay, Gunston strives to educate ethically and environmentally minded scholars, citizens, and leaders for our globalized society. To learn more about Gunston visit gunston.org, email dhenry@gunston.org, or call 410.758.0620 ext. 6.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Congratulations to Gunston on this launch! As we approach the 10th year of Washington College’s Chesapeake Semester (https://www.washcoll.edu/centers/ces/chesapeake-semester.php), we can attest to the incredible power of this kind of multidisciplinary, experiential learning. There is no substitute for seeing the places and meeting the people that make our nation’s largest estuary so fascinating. And it’s never been more important that we help the next generation understand and embrace this complexity. We wish the students and faculty in this program well – they’re in for the experience of a lifetime!

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