The Gunston School Launches Innovative New Program, the Chesapeake Watershed Semester

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On a perfect summer evening in August, the launch of the Chesapeake Watershed Semester was celebrated with a gathering of students, families, partners, and supporters.  With a warm welcome by Gunston’s Board Chair, Jim Wright, and inspiring words by Headmaster John Lewis, Gunston formally launched the first cohort of the program with full enrollment of 13 students.

Director, Emily Beck, says “We’ve designed and built an educational program that is immersive, rigorous, and place-based.  The watershed’s 64,000 square miles forms our classroom with students completing five weeks in the field during the semester. Over the course of the fifteen-week semester, students will weave together science and public policy, time in the lab and in the field, and direct action with reflection. The semester concludes with students presenting their independent research and action projects at a regional symposium. We fully believe that today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and that it is critical to engage them in an educational experience that is equal to the challenges of their time.”

Pictured L-R: Caroline Taylor, Caroline Roser, Katie Schiwy, Nick Kellogg, Yanni Harris, Camy Kelly, Zachary Goss, Phil Ashley, Brooks Armstrong, Keller Evans, Mason Rudolfs, Menel Harris, not pictured – Cole Evans

“The Chesapeake Watershed Semester is a powerful opportunity to expand our educational paradigm and offer students a 21st Century learning experience that empowers them with real-world knowledge, critical thinking capacities, and leadership skills” she adds. “The restoration and sustainable management of the Chesapeake Bay is a litmus test for humanity’s capacity to maintain ecological harmony, and The Chesapeake Watershed Semester seeks to provide students with the intellectual, social, and leadership tools to successfully respond to these challenges. It is a unique opportunity for highly motivated high school juniors or seniors to join a talented community of learners who will immerse themselves in the study and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay for one semester. Through dynamic and diverse field-study Expeditions, students travel the region meeting with stakeholders and conducting research. While in residence on our waterfront campus, students take honors and AP level classes while maintaining an intense, hands-on engagement with the natural environment.”

Such a rich and robust program would not be possible with the support and inspiration of our program partners! Our partners in designing and launching the program include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Sultana Education Foundation, Washington College, and the Harry Hughes Center for Agroecology.

Semester schools are inspired by the collegiate “semester abroad” program; designed and adapted for high school students. Though not widely known, semester schools have been around for several decades. Semester schools offer a full semester of academic credit as well as a wealth of knowledge and new experiences for students who return to their four-year institutions upon completing the semester. Each program offers a unique curriculum and learning environment.

Beyond the academics, semester schools offer motivated students powerfully transformative experience. Students who attend semester schools develop poise, grit, and a firm sense of self; all hallmarks of 21st Century education. Indeed, colleges view a student’s decision to attend a semester school highly and reflective of the students maturity and college readiness.

The Gunston School has established itself as a regional and national leader for environmental teaching and learning with its annual Chesapeake Bay Studies week of field courses, successive Green School certifications, its unparalleled 35-acre waterfront campus on the shores of the Corsica River in Centreville, MD, and finally with the launch of the Watershed Semester.

To learn more about the Chesapeake Watershed Semester visit www.chesapeakewatershedsemester.org or call 410.758.0620

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