Hebrew Academy of Tidewater earns community environmental award

July 19, 2016

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The United Jewish Federation of Tidewater sponsored outdoor learning equipment to give Hebrew Academy children hands-on understanding of their natural environment.

The United Jewish Federation of Tidewater sponsored outdoor learning equipment to give Hebrew Academy children hands-on understanding of their natural environment.

A noteworthy collaboration by Hebrew Academy students, parents, teachers and administration earned Hebrew Academy of Tidewater its first community environmental award. Lynnhaven River NOW (LRN), a local environmental organization that focuses on the restoration of Virginia Beach’s historic Lynnhaven River, bestowed HAT with the honor of being a Pearl School.

To earn this achievement, HAT spent the last academic year integrating key Jewish values of environmental stewardship into its general and Judaic studies curriculums. They also tracked gardening and other stewardship activities. This award demonstrates that HAT students don’t just intellectually learn Jewish values, but they actively live Jewish values.

Earning this award was a year in the making. Before the 2014-15 school year ended, HAT parents Alyssa Muhlendorf and Ashley and Shawn Lemke met with LRN, school administration and key teachers to discuss how environmental stewardship and gardening could be integrated into the school curriculum. HAT committed to enhancing its curriculum and then hosted an in-service by LRN to teach the teachers how to engage children in gardening and other stewardship activities. A Pearl School committee was formed between parents, teachers and administration to lay the groundwork for steps students and teachers would take to earn Pearl School status.

Engaging students in environmental stewardship is a multi-sensory process. At HAT’s request, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater sponsored outdoor learning equipment to give children hands-on understanding of their natural environment. HAT now has four 4×4 square foot gardens and a green house. Each class is assigned space for experimenting. When LRN’s Jody Ullman presented HAT with the award, she noted, “Some schools build gardens but never use them. We at LRN are so impressed with HAT’s integration of gardening into their daily activities.”

Every grade at HAT took an environmentally and sustainably-focused field trip this year. For example, first through fifth graders experienced the Elizabeth River Learning Barge, an outdoor floating classroom with live wetlands and wetlands animals; the kindergarten explored both sides of First Landing State Park, and fifth grade went on an overnight trip to the Pearlstone Center, a Jewish farm in Maryland.

Stewardship doesn’t stop at HAT when the school day is over. Beginning in January 2016, a parent-led, school-sponsored Garden & Nature Club met to address a new topic and explore, plant and tend what is growing and living in the outdoor learning space and around the campus each week. This club made a significant contribution to earning the Pearl School Award—more than 20 students participated, and their enthusiasm for gardening and the natural world spilled into their classrooms.

HAT’s new Pearl School banner will be prominently displayed in the school’s foyer. Each year the school will have a chance to renew their award through sustained or new environmental initiatives.

Alyssa Muhlendorf

Letter to the Editor