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Special Guests: The Virginia Department of Forestry

Next week we will wrap up our unit big idea "Connection to Place". This week we had an opportunity to deepen our connection to the forests here at GAP School by hosting three guests from the Virginia Department of Forestry. On Wednesday, Learners explored our woods with two forest health agents who specialize in invasive plants and invasive insects in Virginia forests. On Thursday, we focused on watersheds and the connection to forest health.

Our Learners had a chance to ask questions about the real phenomena they are observing in the woods like, "Why do we see shiny liquid in the water at the creek sometimes?" and "What's up with the stink bugs?" Turns out, the shiny liquid is likely tannins (a chemical in leaves) leaching into the water and the stink bugs are trying to stay warm in your house. Pro tip from DOF Agent Kaitlin, if you put a light over a foil chaffing pan (or something similar) with water and dish soap in the pan, it may help to attract and dispatch some of the stink bugs in your house. Both days hosting experts in the field of forestry provided a chance for Learners to connect with people who have careers in the field of conservation and ecology, to engage in authentic inquiry and be able to ask questions with real time answers.

The sharing of information was not just a one way street. Our guests were also able to validate all the ecological understaning your Learners have about the land at school. It was a great opportunity for the Learners to shine and share about their relationship with the plants and other organisms on the land at GAP School. Our oldest flock, the Emerald Alpacas, took great pride in showing off all the plants they have identified on the property this year including; hazelnuts, hackberry, cottonwood trees and so on. At one point, the invasive plant forestry agent Lindsay, after hearing a lengthy description of the characteristics of a tree, took off her credentials and handed them over to a Learner explaining, "You can have my job. You're ready." Moments like these, are proof of concept for how an education at GAP School can support a young person's connection to place and over time provide deep understanding about the world around them. This deep connection is foundational to foster people who are curious and passionate about learning.

We were grateful to have so many guests from the Department of Forestry and look forward to a continued relationship in the future. Curious about what invasive species to look for and what you can do about it at your home? Our top two takeaways: learn to identify Asiatic Bittersweet, a vine that chokes out native plants, and feel free to pull it all out. We are going to start experimenting with it as a resource for basket making. Number two, while the Lantern Fly has not been seen on school property and possibly not at your home, learn to identify it and its egg sacks and remove them right away.

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