No Child Left Inside

John Wayland Elementary Turns Earth Day Into A Lesson

Posted: April 30, 2013

John Wayland Elementary School students took a break from the classroom April 22 to participate in the school’s annual Earth Day activities. According to Principal David W. Burchfield, the school adds something new to its environmental education offerings each year. ABOVE: Superintendent of Rockingham County Public Schools Carol Fenn joins in the Earth Day fun. (Photo by Timothy Schumacher / DN-R, Features)
Second-grader Keean Roman digs through the dirt with a cultivator rake in front of John Wayland Elementary School. While ripping up weeds in the butterfly garden, he pulls something out of the ground.

“I found an onion!” the ecstatic youngster yells.

He shows off his prize to the children digging next to him.

“Woo, that’s cool!” they chorus.

A little while later, a team of first graders carries a garbage bag filled with leaves and drops it next to the garden. Second-grader Molley Early grabs a handful and sits next to two red tulips, carefully spreading the mulch around the blooms.

Hundreds of students traded their classroom curriculum for rakes and gardening gloves during the school’s annual Earth Day celebration April 22.

In partnership with the Town of Bridgewater, the school looks to the event to provide environmental education through participation.

On Monday, some 500 students and faculty picked up trash, leaves and weeds — along with the knowledge of the environment’s importance. Lessons included recycling, maintaining a garden and how to preserve the Earth.

In addition to the cleanup, students collected 580 grocery bags from a local grocery store, painted environmental pictures on them and returned the bags, as a way to increase environmental awareness.

Second-grade teacher Susan Eckenrode, said the goal of the celebration is to teach children to take responsibility for their home.

“We are trying to have the children learn there are reactions to their actions and what they do and what they give to the Earth, they can get back from it,” she said.  

Tomorrow’s Citizens
Principal David W. Burchfield said the culture of stewardship continues to build each year.

“It’s just what we do here now,” he said. “Each year, we add something new to the program. There are at least 15 different things we do now in the name of environmental education that help our children understand their role in this little piece of the world. And we hope that will transfer out as they get older in their role as citizens.”

Eckenrode said one of the goals is to get children recycling.

“We save things in our classroom and, every two weeks, there is a parent ... who comes and helps us,” she said. “[T]hey sort it into different piles and the children are part of that.”

Even the plants in the John Wayland gardens were made possible by recycling.

“We recycled old crayons and sold them and then we used the money to buy plants for the butterfly garden,” Eckenrode said. “We won first place in the economic awards at JMU [James Madison University] and the state economic award in 1997.”

What is not recycled is used for art projects.

Nature As The Classroom

The school got involved in local environmental issues after a flood in Wildwood Park destroyed many habitats. Thanks to several grants, the school helped build a riparian buffer to help prevent erosion.

That’s when the school decided to start the yearly Earth Day celebration to help beautify the school.

John Wayland Elementary is a Virginia Naturally recognized program and one of three schools to have earned the achievement for the last 13 years. The recognition, which is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is given to schools that do something new each year to improve the environment.

In participation with Heifer International, the school has helped raise $3,500 for the “Read to Feed” program, which benefits hunger and environmental programs. It also has helped raise more than $3,000 for Harper McCaughan Elementary School in Long Beach, Miss., after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Coming up, the elementary school will work with the Bridgewater Police Department to create a bike trail.

“This spring, when we go down there, the students are going to help build a bike trail; actually do the gravel and spread the gravel. It is amazing how much 100 children can do.”

Contact Timothy Schumacher at (540) 574-6265 or

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