North Branch School in Afton is one of only five schools in the Commonwealth to receive the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries’ “Virginia Naturally” School Recognition Award for all 10 years the program has been in effect. To celebrate this milestone, North Branch School was awarded a sign acknowledging their achievement on November 20. Schools receiving this recognition have demonstrated exemplary efforts to promote good stewardship of Virginia’s natural resources. Virginia Naturally Schools must meet specific requirements, which increase with each successive year that a school achieves recognition.
In their application for the 2008-2009 school year, North Branch School outlined the units of study about nature and the service efforts that all students, preschool through 8th grade, engage in. Projects for last year included planting and harvesting the school’s gardens,; feeding, identifying, and graphing sightings of birds; wildflower walks with the Wintergreen Nature Foundation; building mini-greenhouses; maintaining the school’s nature trail and outdoor classroom; geology lessons with a field trip to Grand Caverns; and stream monitoring as part of the Chesapeake Bay Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience. In May, North Branch’s middle school students spent several days on the Chesapeake Bay, learning about the bay’s habitat and ecosystems through the programs of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Local groups, such as the Blue Ridge Sierra Club, RiverFest of Waynesboro, and the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, helped to underwrite this field study.
North Branch students and staff also learned about green building techniques as they observed the construction of the school’s new annex last year. Opened in September, the building is insulated with natural cotton fiber insulation and integrates radiant floor heating and south-facing passive solar elements. Sun tubes bring natural light into the north-facing rooms.