The SVGS Corner – “AP Environmental Science: Digging In”

The SVGS Corner is a place to catch a glimpse of the daily life of Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School STEM students. Here you will find articles about the special opportunities SVGS offers in its classes as well as the research projects and capstones our juniors and seniors are hard at work on. Check back regularly to keep up-to-date with SVGS STEM students!

AP Environmental Science: Digging In

It’s a cool, foggy morning and a group of students stand in Shenandoah National Park. Ms. Jo-el Nelson stands in front of a large, lumpy tree, explaining that the lumps at the base of the tree are caused by a fungus living within it. One student has just caught a salamander.

APES teacher Ms. Jo-el Nelson discusses the origins of lumps growing on a tree at Shenandoah National Park. (Image courtesy of Nikki Pettry)

This is a typical scene for the AP Environmental Science (APES) class. Every week, Ms. Nelson takes her APES students on a field trip to complete fieldwork that is a hands-on experience to facilitate learning. Past field trips have included a hike at St. Mary’s Wilderness, a trip to Colebelle Dairy Farm, and even just exploring the land surrounding SVGS. During the field trips, students are required to record the temperature, take pictures, and note observations. Along with these weekly field trips, students are required to complete an independent hike and write-up twice a school year. This week, it’s a field trip to Shenandoah National Park to collect soil samples which students will then analyze in lab the following week. The purpose of the lab this week is to determine soil composition, as certain types of soil provide different needs for plant life.

Fieldwork such as this is an integral part of learning AP Environmental Science at Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School. When asked what aspect of taking APES at SVGS is their favorite, most students will say the field trips. Noah, a current senior enrolled in the class, says, “I love learning about the world around me and the class gives me a wonderful hands-on opportunity to do that.” Another student, Nikki, agrees, but adds that feeding the class fish is also a favorite aspect of the class.

Each field trip the students embark on is diverse but equally enjoyed by the class. Nikki says that her favorite trip first semester has been a hydroponics trip to Bloomakers in Stuarts Draft to learn about alternative styles of farming. This particular trip was special to her because each student got to take home an amaryllis bulb. Noah, on the other hand, was unable to pick just one favorite.

Students test for phosphate in soil samples they collected the previous week. (Image courtesy of Nikki Pettry)

For the majority of students, the most valuable aspect of APES fieldwork at SVGS is the opportunity to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world. Students are able to create personal understanding of the material they’re learning and realize the true meaning of issues that many people working in environmental science fields currently face. Students are able to see how workers overcome these problems and what other concerns might crop up in the future. Taking AP Environmental Science at Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School allows students to learn about an area of science they are passionate about in a way that keeps that passion ignited.

Written by Paige Pettry


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.