AHES sensory garden with Virginia Naturally School logo emblazoned over image

For the second consecutive year, Albert Harris Elementary School (AHES) has been recognized as a Virginia Naturally School by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) for its efforts to increase environmental awareness and stewardship of our youngest citizens.

According to DWR’s website, “Virginia Naturally Schools is the official environmental education school recognition program of the Commonwealth,” recognized by the Virginia Board of Education as the “official environmental education school recognition program for the state.” The goal of the program is to “recognize the exemplary efforts undertaken by Virginia Schools to increase Environmental Literacy of its students.”

“Our recognition as a Virginia Naturally School for a second year is exciting,” said AHES STEM teacher Laurie Witt.

A key component of AHES’ environmental education effort is the Green Schoolyard.

“The Green Schoolyard is an ongoing program that Krista Hodges of the Dan River Basin Association and I created to maximize students’ opportunities to learn science Standards of Learning in a natural setting,” Witt said. “Albert Harris Elementary’s Green Schoolyard has expanded to include a new outside learning space with raised beds where teachers can teach hands-on lessons. Students enjoy being able to learn outdoors where they can apply what they are learning about in a real-world setting. It is wonderful to work with such a great community partner like DRBA to enrich our students’ learning.”

In addition to the raised beds, the Green Schoolyard initiative has included a vegetable garden planted by AHES students to help reduce erosion, a certified monarch waystation created and maintained by second graders to benefit monarchs and other local pollinators, and rain barrel systems to water the school’s many plants while simultaneously reducing the amount of water entering the school’s storm drains.

This summer, a sensory garden (funded by a grant from the Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia) became the newest addition to the Green Schoolyard initiative. 

In the classroom, environmental education lessons align with the scientific and engineering practices found in Virginia’s Science Standards of Learning (SOLs). 

“Thank you for your continued efforts to introduce students to the environment and stewardship of our natural resources,” wrote DWR State-wide Wildlife Education Coordinator and Virginia Naturally Schools program chair Courtney Hallacher in a letter announcing AHES’ year 2 designation. 

“Being honored once again as a Virginia Naturally School by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources holds a special place in our hearts,” said AHES Principal Dr. Renee Brown. “This prestigious accolade serves as a testament to the profound impact that outdoor education, aligned with the Virginia Standards of Learning, has on our students’ learning experiences. It is with utmost gratitude that I extend my sincere appreciation to Ms. Witt for her unwavering dedication to fostering a strong partnership with the Dan River Basin Association in promoting outdoor education.”