The Natural Classroom

The Gunston School’s launch of the Chesapeake Watershed Semester was featured in the NAIS Independent School Magazine, Winter 2019 edition.


Capstone Symposium


Capstone Symposium

CWS1 presented their semester-long research projects at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s headquarters in Annapolis on Wednesday, December 19th, to an appreciative audience of parents, advisors, Trustee’s, and CWS Advisory Board members. The inaugural Symposium began with a warm welcome by Tom Ackerman, CBF’s VP of Education, and John Lewis, Headmaster at the Gunston School. Watershed Semester students then shared their findings and actions on a wide array of issues facing the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Stay tuned for updates this spring as students launch websites focused on raising awareness on addressing climate change through food choices and protecting pollinators, students hold town hall meetings on the importance of the waterman culture in the Chesapeake Bay region, and organize growing and planting submerged aquatic vegetation in the upper Bay.


Studying resiliency on a shrinking island

Studying resiliency on a shrinking island

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studying resiliency on a shrinking island

by Camy Kelly

Nov 30 2018

Field Journal 8

The Island of Tangier located off the shore of Crisfield, Maryland, is a small and rather poor, but happy community. However, this island is in danger. It is extremely close to sea level, and on top of this, tides have been rising, which is slowly washing away the island that the locals have come to love for generations. I have never been to Tangier before, and we did go during a storm and a high tide I will admit, but this does not change the fact that the island is in danger. From looking at maps from over the years, this island that once was whole has lost an extreme amount of land due to what the locals call erosion, but what I call climate change and sea level rise.

We were challenged on the trip to put our feet into the shoes of the locals though and see how erosion could be contributing to the loss of land. On the west side of the island there was sea wall put in to guard the land from the wind that was hitting it in a really strong way, and that was where they were losing the most land. So all signs point to it being natural and caused from wind and larger waves.

However, things that pointed to sea level rise from climate change most likely, was the fact that all over the island, even inland, there were puddles that were just sitting there. Along with this, the tide was level with the dock on Port Isabel (CBF’s residential environmental education facility) which was extremely abnormal. Another thing is the fact that when we went canoeing, we did not have to drag the canoes anywhere, we could simply pull them off of the rack and they would be in the knee deep water that was overtop of grass and dirt. This indicated towards sea level rise more than anything, because that does not happen simply because of erosion. Though I put myself into the shoes of others I still am confident that the island is sinking due to sea level rise.

The Gunston School launches innovative new program, the Chesapeake Watershed Semester

The Gunston School launches innovative new program, the Chesapeake Watershed Semester

On a perfect summer evening in August, the launch of the Chesapeake Watershed Semester was celebrated with a gathering of students, families, partners, and supporters.   With a warm welcome by Gunston’s Board Chair, Jim Wright, and inspiring words by Headmaster John Lewis, Gunston formally launched the first cohort of the program with a full enrollment of 13 students.  

Director, Emily Beck, says “We’ve designed and built an educational program that is immersive, rigorous, and place-based.  The watershed's 64,000 square miles forms our classroom with students completing five weeks in the field during the semester.  Over the course of the fifteen-week semester, students will weave together science and public policy, time in the lab and in the field, and direct action with reflection.  The semester concludes with students presenting their independent research and action projects at a regional symposium. We fully believe that today's students will be tomorrow's leaders for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and that it is critical to engage them in an educational experience that is equal to the challenges of their time.”  

“The Chesapeake Watershed Semester is a powerful opportunity to expand our educational paradigm and offer students a 21st Century learning experience that empowers them with real-world knowledge, critical thinking capacities, and leadership skills” she adds. “The restoration and sustainable management of the Chesapeake Bay is a litmus test for humanity’s capacity to maintain ecological harmony, and The Chesapeake Watershed Semester seeks to provide students with the intellectual, social, and leadership tools to successfully respond to these challenges.  It is a unique opportunity for highly motivated high school juniors or seniors to join a talented community of learners who will immerse themselves in the study and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay for one semester. Through dynamic and diverse field-study Expeditions, students travel the region meeting with stakeholders and conducting research. While in residence on our waterfront campus, students take honors and AP level classes while maintaining an intense, hands-on engagement with the natural environment.”

Such a rich and robust program would not be possible with the support and inspiration of our program partners! Our partners in designing and launching the program include the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Sultana Education Foundation, Washington College, and the Harry Hughes Center for Agroecology.

Semester schools are inspired by the collegiate "semester abroad" program; designed and adapted for high school students.  Though not widely known, semester schools have been around for several decades. Semester schools offer a full semester of academic credit as well as a wealth of knowledge and new experiences for students who return to their four-year institutions upon completing the semester.  Each program offers a unique curriculum and learning environment.

Beyond the academics, semester schools offer motivated students powerfully transformative experience. Students who attend semester schools develop poise, grit, and a firm sense of self; all hallmarks of 21st Century education. Indeed, colleges view a student’s decision to attend a semester school highly and reflective of the students' maturity and college readiness.  

The Gunston School has established itself as a regional and national leader for environmental teaching and learning with its annual Chesapeake Bay Studies week of field courses, successive Green School certifications, its unparalleled 35-acre waterfront campus on the shores of the Corsica River in Centreville, MD, and finally with the launch of the Watershed Semester.  

To learn more about the Chesapeake Watershed Semester visit or call 410.758.0620


CWS Welcomes Environmental Humanities Teacher

CWS is please to share that Owain Heyden is joining the team as our Environmental Humanities teacher!

Prior to living in Maryland, he worked as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park, leading interpretive programs and chasing black bears away from visitors. Additionally, he has served in AmeriCorps as an environmental educator for Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A graduate of Oberlin College, Owain holds a B.A. in English and History.  He is an experienced writing instructor, academic tutor, and backpacking expedition leader. He has studied abroad at Cambridge University, completing their semester program with a concentration in American Literature. Owain seeks to forge genuine connections between students, texts, and landscapes. He enjoys hiking, swimming, and bluegrass music.

Chesapeake Watershed Semester wins 100K Edward E. Ford Foundation Grant!

The Gunston School is pleased to announce that it’s innovative new program, The Chesapeake Watershed Semester, is the recipient of a grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation. This award of $100,000, matched 1:1 by funds raised, will provide $200,000 in seed money to launch this ground-breaking program that offers aspiring student leaders an educational experience with a joint focus on environmental science and public policy.

The Chesapeake Watershed Semester (CWS) is a semester-length opportunity for highly motivated juniors or seniors to immerse themselves in the study and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. Through dynamic and diverse field-study expeditions, students will travel the region meeting with stakeholders and conducting research. Rigorous classroom, laboratory, and research project work will deepen each student’s academic foundation, leading to a capstone action project to be formally presented at the end of the program. We expect that each cohort of CWS students will emerge as reflective and confident scholars and leaders who can support regional and global environmental sustainability through their understanding of scientific, social, cultural, and political systems.  

In a highly competitive grant cycle, The Gunston School is pleased to be one of 13 schools receiving awards from the Foundation. “The Gunston School is grateful for the ongoing support from the Edward E. Ford Foundation,” said John Lewis, “the rigorous, multi-stage application process allowed us to reflect on the school’s growth and success over the past eight years. Such work would not have been possible without the support of our Board of Trustees, families, and staff at the school. The EE Ford Foundation is the preeminent foundation for supporting innovations in high school education making their recognition of our new program particularly impactful.” In a letter to Gunston’s Head of School, John Lewis, announcing the grant award, John C. Gulla, Executive Director of The Edward E. Ford Foundation, said, “…it is a very important and exciting program and I look forward to hearing about it in the years to come.”

The grant from the EE Ford Foundation will help to support the program’s successful launch in the pilot years, and help The Gunston School and CWS build a “bridge” between the pilot program and the fully residential CWS program, which aims to enroll students from across the country and around the globe.

Emily Beck, Director of the Chesapeake Watershed Semester, credits the extensive partnership network around CWS for drawing the attention of the EE Ford Foundation. “Our formal partnerships with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Washington College’s Center for Environment and Society, Sultana Education Foundation, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and the Echo Hill Outdoor School are pivotal to our goals of crafting a program imbued with academic rigor and immersive field experiences for our students” Beck said. “We have designed the program to meet the educational challenges of our time and are eager to begin our first semester in a few short months.”

The Gunston School and the Chesapeake Watershed Semester will raise a matching $100,000 as part of the grant requirements. The cumulative sum will be the rocket fuel that helps to launch the nascent program. The pilot semester, fully enrolled with 13 students, will launch in August of 2018. Students interested in the program can learn more at and consider applying for the Fall 2019 cohort. Follow along the adventures of the CWS1 on Facebook and Instagram throughout the fall of 2018.


About the Gunston School:

The Gunston School offers an intellectually rigorous, highly personalized, and nurturing college preparatory educational experience. Valuing a healthy balance between mind and body, a strong sense of community, the creative process, and our connection to the Chesapeake Bay, Gunston strives to educate ethically and environmentally minded scholars, citizens, and leaders for our globalized society. The Gunston School, located on the banks of the Corsica River in Centreville, MD, serves 200 students in grades 9-12.


About the Edward E. Ford Foundation:

The Edward E. Ford Foundation supports and strengthens independent secondary schools with its mission to “challenge and inspire them to leverage their unique talents, expertise and resources to advance teaching and learning throughout this country by supporting and disseminating best practice, by supporting efforts to develop and implement models of sustainability, and by encouraging collaboration with other institutions.”

Launching a semester school

Launching a semester school

A look back into our archives, this article was first published by The Gunston School in their annual magazine, Multum in Parvo.