At Good Shepherd Episcopal School, the outdoor education program fosters an understanding and appreciation for the natural world through place-based, outdoor exploration and environmental stewardship. The school’s unique location in the heart of Richmond’s historic Forest Hill neighborhood, nestled at the corner of the James River and Forest Hill Park, provides limitless opportunities for students to take their learning outdoors.
Students and teachers work together in a positive and supportive atmosphere while increasing students’ self-confidence, leadership skills, and appreciation for the environment. The journey begins at the start of the school year with neighborhood exploration. Students locate the neighborhood on the map, take walks to the James River, Owl Orchard, Forest Hill Park, and Wayside Spring. Classes focus on outdoor safety, geography, history, ecology, and environmental issues. Students keep journals for predicting, observing, and reflecting. They also engage in discovery and exploration through hands-on learning, storytelling, and art. The program engages students in age-appropriate, memorable experiences that instill a sense of place and ultimately a deeper connection to their world.
For example, students visit one of contractor James Netherwood’s quarries near Riverside Drive to see first-hand where local granite was mined before being shipped as far away as New York during the mid-nineteenth century. Stone from the Forest Hill quarries was used for state, war, and Navy buildings in Washington, D.C. and for local buildings. A student favorite, the Stone House located in Forest Hill Park, was also built from stone from the surrounding quarries. Foundations for nearby houses also come from scrap quarry stone. Good Shepherd students absorb local lore as they explore the historic Forest Hill neighborhood.
In their study of physical science, students walk several paths from the school to Forest Hill Park, plotting elevation along the way. While enjoying the pleasures of being outside, they hone their math and science skills. Students use their plotted points to create topographical maps that are then used to determine the most physically challenging route to the park or the walk with the least change in elevation.
While studying earth science, students use a sieve in Reedy Creek to determine what organisms are supported by the stream’s ecosystem. Filtering and examining the microorganisms in the water allows students to determine the health of the stream. According to Good Shepherd scientists, Richmond’s Reedy Creek is quite healthy!
A sense of wonder enhances the building of early literacy skills. The beauty encountered on walks through the park or jaunts to the James River or Reedy Creek inspires students in their own writing. Just being outside and taking in the expansive artistry of the James River Park system sparks creativity in Good Shepherd students. Recently, early elementary students discovered natural art and literary insight creekside while reading “Anywhere Artist” by Nikki Slade Robinson.
Good Shepherd students benefit from our Forest Hill neighborhood treasures several times each week. Whether it is mathematically plotting a path to the park, studying water samples collected from the James River or Reedy Creek, or writing about the beauty they find along the way, students experience their surroundings in a way that isn’t possible at any other Richmond-area school.