Outdoor Lab Important to Arlington Students

Advocates of the Outdoor Lab outline why budget cuts are short-sighted.

“My wish list would be that it isn’t just the science teachers who take kids out there to the Lab. Think about English teachers taking students out to sit by the pond and reflect on Thoreau and Walden. Your physical health improves out there. There is real stuff going on on a personal level that can’t be measured.” — Carol Goodloe, Outdoor Lab Outreach Coordinator

“The future will belong to the nature-smart — those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” — Richard Louv, Author of “Last Child in the Woods”

Daniel and Bridget, two fifth graders who spoke at the school board budget hearing on March 28, asked the school board not to cut trips to the Outdoor Lab. “In Science class, my teacher makes so many references to the Lab,” said Daniel. “It’s not just another museum: it’s an adventure.” Bridget chimed in at the end of the two minutes allotted to each speaker to beg the board, ”Take away something a little less important, like our iPads because we don’t need those as much to learn.” The audience applauded.

Eric Stern, owner of Casual Adventure, attended the hearing, and noted afterwards, ”Many students spoke about life lessons: leadership, confidence, self-sufficiency, teamwork, and education. Many of these elements stem from their experiences at the Arlington Outdoor Lab, one of the proposed cuts affecting 100 percent of the student body. The Outdoor Lab helped create the character, wisdom, inspiration, and eloquence of the students who showed up at the hearing. The lab provides educational opportunities that can’t necessarily be replicated in a school setting or on an electronic device: problem solving — assembling tents properly to keep dry in the rain; teamwork — navigating the property in small groups through various science stations; life skills — spending a night away from home.”

“With two middle school students here in Arlington, I’ve had the opportunity to chaperone the 3rd, 5th, and 7th grade field trips to the outdoor lab and have seen the benefits first hand,” said Stern.

“Arlington Outdoor Education Association (AOEA), is the non-profit that owns the 225 acre Outdoor Lab,” said MaryAnn Penning, a board member. “Dr. Phoebe Hall Knipling was the first female science supervisor in the state of Virginia and came up with the idea for children in Arlington to have a place to experience nature and science first hand. To pay for the first piece of property, a 210-acre tract, supporters sold cheese from the Cabot Cheese Company. They received funds when people left money in their bequests, usually teachers. An additional piece of property adjoining the land was purchased, bringing it up to 225 acres. That land now includes a pristine stream, a pond, two mountains, and woods. The goal in buying the property was to protect the watershed, and protect what is now owned from encroachment by developers.” The space retains its “nature in the wild” state.

“I got involved in the Lab because I am an outdoor person,” said Carol Goodloe, the Lab’s outreach coordinator. “I’m not a scientist by any means but it seems it is fundamental to human nature that we are part of nature. Edward O. Wilson wrote in his book, ‘Biophilia’ that inherent in our DNA is that we are part of nature and if we cut that off, with endless hours at desks and in front of the TV, our psyches suffer. “

Goodloe said, “The Outdoor Lab is a very small way to get students out of the classroom, have them listen to birds, see the stars, explore animal and plant science. We have stories: students write to us years later and tell us, ‘The Lab turned my life around.’ Some of our students work in environmental science because of the Lab. This is something our APS students carry with them their whole life. And for our immigrant kids, getting them to a place like the Lab might be the first time they have taken a hike, or put up a tent, or cooked a marshmallow over an open fire.”

Frank Bellavia, APS spokesman, said, “The superintendent and APS does not want to take any of the proposed budget reductions. To present a proposed budget that was balanced, however, $8.9 million in reductions had to be proposed. Staff focused on preserving our instructional programs and the critical support provided to schools, students and families, but many difficult decisions had to be made about possible reductions. We continue to hope that the APS budget will be fully funded by Arlington County Government through funding strategies including an increase in the tax rate. “

To learn more about the Outdoor Lab, or donate to it, see: www.outdoorlab.org

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