Professional Development On the Water: North Fork to the Bay

Professional Development On the Water: North Fork to the Bay
Posted on 04/28/2017
North Fork to the Bay students canoeing on the Shenandoah River

“Truly a life-changing and nature-connecting experience”                                                           Heather Ashley

 On the Water  is Heather Ashley’s latest article to be published in the Virginia Journal of Education, a quarterly publication of the Virginia Education Association (VEA).   A technology teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ms. Ashley is also a writer, who, since 2000, has had seven articles published in the VEA Journal.


Searching for a course that would earn recertification points for her teaching license,  Ms. Ashley found From the North Fork to the Bay, a fun, free, and “out of the box” professional development course sponsored by Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River through a Chesapeake Bay Trust grant. Ms. Ashley recounts her “experience of a life-time” in On the Water, a feature article which appears in the April 2017 VEA Journal (pages 18, 19).  (http://www.veanea.org/assets/document/VA/4_17_VJE_Web.pdf)

Canoeing on the Shenandoah River

Teachers enrolled in “From the North Fork to the Bay,”  enjoyed canoeing on the Shenandoah River, one of several watershed experiences.

Ms. Ashley reports that the class was a week-long program to learn more about our local watershed and its impact on the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed.  All teaching disciplines were welcome with emphasis on those who would use science skills in their future lessons.  Participants in the course were from different regions of the watershed, she explained, and spent the first days of their week-long adventure learning about water treatment and resolutions for pollution in their communities.  The experience “also rekindled in us (in Ms. Ashley’s teacher group) a love for our own river,” wrote Ms. Ashley.

PD On the Water

Professional Development On the Water 

By midweek, all of the small groups came together in Reedville, VA, near the Chesapeake Bay.   “Every moment we were encouraged to think scientifically,” wrote Heather Ashley.  “We waded in a tidal saltmarsh to identify native plants. We did water testing and species identification.”  They also learned the rules about harvesting crabs and oysters from the bay. Their agenda included visits to historical homes and museums and trips to Tangier Island and Smith Island. We “learned how life along the water was still, in some ways, like it was in the past,” wrote Ms. Ashley. “As the health of the bay changes, so will their way of life.”

 PD On the water
Class members learned the rules about harvesting crabs and oysters from the bay.
 Oyster/Crab Check out this "creature" -- a crab/osyter!

For two nights, the group stayed in a fishing lodge on Fox Island, where accommodations were rustic.  “Think back to any childhood camp experience,” suggested Ms. Ashley.  There was no mobile phone signal and no bathrooms except for the composting toilets.  We were “definitely off the grid."
Though Ms. Ashley enrolled in From the North Fork to the Bay to earn recertification points for her teaching license, she came away from the class with much more.  “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience which, before now, I’d never known existed,“ she wrote. “It was truly a life-changing and nature-connecting experience.”  

 Sunset on the Bay

For information about classes similar to Ms. Ashley’s, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website at www.cbf.org and search for the “Chesapeake Classrooms” program.  The Friends of the North Fork organization is running a similar program this summer, again funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and Friends. This time they are heading to the hills instead of the shore and partnering with The Mountain Institute instead of the CBF.  You can read the details here:


To learn more about “out of the box” summer professional development opportunities, stay tuned for Ms. Ashley’s next article on that very topic. “Some activities, Ms. Ashley reported, “even pay a small stipend and others are so much fun, you will find yourself wondering if they really are free.”

Heather AshleyHeather Ashley, a graduate of Strasburg High School, holds
a Bachelor in Arts in English Literature from Mary Baldwin College and a Masters of Science in Computers from Shenandoah University.  She decided she wanted to be a teacher when she was in high school and has taught in Shenandoah County for twenty-two years.  She has taught all grade levels and was an adjunct professor at Lord Fairfax Community College for three years.   As the instructor of the first Internet course offered in Shenandoah County, she has also taught administrators. 

Ms. Ashley’s second love is writing.  “I grew up writing,” she said, and especially remembers writing poetry when she was only nine years old.  In addition to the seven VEA Journal articles, she has two more on the way.  She also writes for trade magazines and has a quarterly column in one.

Heather Ashley is a member and past-president of the Shenandoah County Education Association.   She is also a member of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce. Ms. Ashley has presented at VSTE and VEA conferences.    She is an ordained elder of the Woodstock Presbyterian Church and a community volunteer. 

                                                                                   Photos by Heather Ashley