Thursday, August 17, 2017  

A New Voice for the Rappahannock


It’s not often that a person is able to merge a lifetime of diverse interests into one career opportunity, effectively fusing the line between vocation and avocation. But for Kevin Goff, all the right circumstances came together at the right time as he recently became the Director of the River Program for St. Margaret’s School in Tappahannock, Virginia.
Degrees in biology, religion, and marine science will soon include a doctorate in the educational field. Goff recently taught at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and the William and Mary School of Education. Before that, he taught marine and environmental science at high schools in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, including time with the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School, gaining experience with the grade levels at St. Margaret’s. Add a hometown location to the mix of fortunate circumstances coming together, and 
Goff can walk to work.
The new position at St. Margaret’s was made possible by an impressive grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. For Goff, it opens opportunities to incorporate all aspects of his background into the school curriculum and to extend those opportunities to the larger community by partnering with regional organizations that share the common goal of restoration and preservation—“sustainability” by today’s catchword—of the Rappahannock River.
Situated on the shore of the Rappahannock, St. Margaret’s is both a boarding and day school for girls in grades 8 through 12. River life is already familiar to these students, and it will become much more so in the coming months and years. Though he’s been with the school only a short time, Goff has so many plans that the only problem would seem to be which to implement first.
“One critical challenge will be to find ways to build river awareness and environmental issues into academic classes, even though I am not actually teaching those classes,” says Goff. “But the goal is much broader than the academic connections. The idea is to fold the Rappahannock River and Chesapeake Bay themes of environmental sustainability not just into classes, but into all aspects of school life on campus: athletics, recreation, residential life, and community service. First, I must get to know the school so I can see how to incorporate the environmental themes. This is the start of what will be a continuous work-in-progress. It will take several years to integrate the Bay and River themes.”
When teaching environmental science and marine science 
at VIMS and the Governor’s School, one of Goff’s methods 
was to use aquatic science as the occasion to learn general science. Biology, chemistry, physics, and geology all have marine and environmental connections, creating the way 
to weave sustainability of the river and Bay into those courses 
at St. Margaret’s. The nonscience courses may present a different challenge.
One of Goff’s first projects is a change to the school’s River Days, a program comprised of two- or three-day camping field trips to explore sections of the Rappahannock and Bay. In the past, the whole school went out on the same weekend, with each class going to a different place. This year, Goff will take each class to their specified location on a different weekend, so he can be with the students on all of the trips. Obviously, if a student is at St. Margaret’s for the full five years, she’ll see all segments of the Chesapeake watershed, from the Appalachian Mountains to Tidewater.
“These trips serve as a bonding adventure for the students,” says Goff, “but if we want them to be environmentally conscious adults, it may be that the most important thing we can do is take them to beautiful places. If nothing else, they’ll come away with a gut-level appreciation of the place, a start to building the emotional and moral commitment to sustainability. Of course, I hope they’ll remember some of the academic information, too. The goal is to work some educational instruction into these trips by focusing on topics like the headwaters of the Rappahannock, essential habitats of Chesapeake Bay, ecosystem relationships, water quality issues, and so on.”
All St. Margaret’s students participate in afternoon activities. For many, that means a sport, and here, the obvious river connection is the crew team. For the future, Goff envisions paddling into freshwater marshes, hiking area nature trails, having bicycles and perhaps even paddleboards available for exploration. He will also encourage students to take on long-term independent science research projects.
Students now complete twelve hours of community service a year. Goff would want to implement a special award available to students who do more than the requirement. He’d also like to set up a “minigrant” program, whereby a student would not only write the grant for their pet project, but have a chance to actually receive the award.
Service projects are another choice for activities. These might include things like oyster restoration, or monitoring water quality at specified areas; in this, the school would partner with Friends of the Rappahannock, the advocacy organization dedicated to maintaining a healthy river.
Goff also mentions partnering with Menokin, the 18th century plantation home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, which is now a center for historic preservation and natural resource conservation. “The organization wants St. Margaret’s students to develop an ecotour at the property and possibly to lead the tours eventually.”
In Essex County, plans for developing some nature trails are in the early stages now, but St. Margaret’s students might someday be involved with these, too. By taking part in more such activities, the school will become a resource for community involvement.
“I plan to reach out to other schools in Virginia,” says Goff, “so their students and St. Margaret’s students can work together on semisocial, semiservice projects, like a river cleanup, for one example. Lindy Williams, Head of School, would also like to see St. Margaret’s involved in similar activities with schools in the area.”
The major goal for the River Program is to build sustainability of the river, partly through field studies. “River Walk is a top priority,” says Goff. “This is a walkway on the river side of the campus. Early planning started several years ago. The walk will connect the river buildings, then become a scenic walk, but not just focusing on the view. Rather, it will have a new vision. I’d like to have a living shoreline, with wetland plants instead of riprap. Learning stations will be situated along the way. These will include a rain garden, a butterfly garden, birdhouses, and more, with outdoor classroom areas providing accessibility to all aspects of river life. Eventually, I’d like to add a wind turbine! I see the walkway as one part of sustainability, and the key thing that I want is to have the students do much of the planning.”
Another part of the original grant is campus sustainability, and with that in mind, Goff would aspire to Green Ribbon School status for St. Margaret’s, though this would take several years to earn. It is a program whereby the U.S. Department of Education recognizes schools that do several things:
Reduce environmental impact (sustainability)
Improve health and wellness of school, students, and staff
3. Provide environmental education
“Marine and environmental education is a deep, enduring passion of mine,” says Goff, “as is the STEM education mission in general (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). As Director of the River Program, I want the Rappahannock to be part of St. Margaret’s image and identity, not just with a view of the river, but through environmental stewardship and a concern for sustainability.”
Lindy Williams also sees the school’s riverfront location as an opportunity. “Along with our Board of Governors, we see the potential of our area’s natural resources and share a passion to become stewards and active participants in the Rappahannock’s preservation. We want to become a river school instead of a school located on the river.”
And for the students, what a grand time to be at St. Margaret’s!