It’s always a bonus when the answer to a perplexing problem is found right outside the door. That’s exactly what happened when a group of determined scientists, environmentalists and educators worked together to fulfill the needs of public school science teachers.

Teachers in 10 counties in Southwest Virginia were surveyed a couple of years ago. They expressed the need for lesson plans that would allow them to use the region’s assets—public parks, rivers and wildlife—to teach complex scientific topics instead of relying on curricula that would require expensive supplies for laboratories.

UVa-Wise, Clinch River Valley Initiative and Friends of Southwest Virginia listened. Using funds from the Virginia Environmental Endowment, the partners developed Teach the Clinch, a series of 50 lesson plans for K-12 classrooms. The lessons focus on using natural assets to teach the broader topics in biology, geology and watershed science.

“Teach the Clinch” went into use this year, and it seems to be successful. Wally Smith, a biology professor at UVa-Wise, said the program is designed to increase environmental education in the region. Teachers reported the need for adequate facilities, funding and training, but limited money was an immediate issue for school systems.

Those involved in the project realized straightaway that Southwest Virginia has plenty of public areas to study habitats, wildlife, watersheds and geology, Smith explained. The partners were thrilled at the notion that the scientific topics could be taught using free resources.

Smith said veteran educator Terry Vencil, known for her work with the Estonoa outdoor classroom in St. Paul, played a big part in the project. The mother-son team of Carol Doss and Christopher Anama-Green were tapped to build the lesson plans.

The five content areas in the program are tuned to Virginia’s Standards of Learning. Doss and Anama-Green built the plan to be a living document that can be adjusted when needed.

“The power of place, which is so prevalent in the Clinch River Watershed, was always evident to me growing up,” Anama-Green said. “I’m go glad that I could combine my passion for education and my love for the region through the ‘Teach the Clinch’ curriculum project.”

Anama-Green said the program targets specific areas of environmental education and lessons that are original to the project and resources that have been tailored to the Clinch River Watershed.

“The curriculum incorporates some of the best-available pedagogical strategies and resources to allow teachers to provide high-quality environmental education concepts for easy cross-curricular connections,” he said. “It is truly a blessing that we are able to provide this resource at a time when environmental education does not receive enough support or resources.”

The lesson plans can be downloaded directly from the website for free, or educators can download the whole guide as a standalone PDF and send it to their Kindle or other tablet device as an e-book. The website can be found at http://southwestvirginiacsi.wixsite.com/clinch/blank.