Mount Vernon donates 200+-year-old hunk of history to Belvedere


Fourth-graders look on as Mount Vernon Horticulture Director Dean Norton marks  10-year increments on the tree’s rings.

Belvedere is the honored and grateful recipient of a “tree cookie” from Mount Vernon. Dean Norton, horticulture director at George Washington’s historic home, delivered a solid slice of a white oak tree that for over 200 years graced the center of the estate’s slave cemetery.


chunk-o-tree-and-dean-nortonMr. Norton met with Ms. Cendejas’ class, which will be tending the colonial beds again in the Timeline Garden. He told the students how trees grow a ring every year and so are used to estimate a tree’s age. Together, the class counted the rings and marked every 10 years. The rings aren’t clearly defined on the outer edges, but the students easily counted 218 rings. That dates the tree to at least 1798. George Washington died in 1799.

The students were elated to learn that Mr. Norton was giving the tree specimen to Belvedere. The tree slice is half the width of the original tree, extending from bark to core. He also showed the students a special tool that determines a tree’s age without having to cut down the tree. The tree will be usable by classes studying living things, plant vascular systems, and Virginia history; shortly it also will be on view in the lobby’s glass display area.

Filling up the tank for Trout in the Classroom


Kindergartners in Ms. Gump’s class helped fill the 55-gallon tank in preparation for the brook trout eggs that will arrive in a few weeks. This will be the third year that Belvedere participates in Trout in the Classroom with the Northern Virginia Chapter of Trout Unlimited. We’re hoping for a successful trout release like the one we had last spring!

Below, students watch the oxygen bubble out of the lava rocks that have just been put into the tank. To create a brook trout habitat, we put sticks and rocks from a local stream into the water to provide beneficial bacteria, then chill the water to 50-55F.


Explore and create with us on June 10!

Please join us for Belvedere’s Eco-Discovery Night and Art Walk
Friday, June 10   6-8PM

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Success! K/1 sends 42 trout a-swimmin’

releasing trout

A trout is on the verge of making its escape into Wildcat Hollow Run.

Last week, Ms. Gump’s K/1 class got to ride a big red bus out to Markham, VA, to release the 42 trout they’ve been raising this year. The Northern Virginia Association of Trout Unlimited, through its Trout in the Classroom watershed education program, provided the class with a tiny packet of 200 eggs in the fall and the class has been carefully taking care of the fry since. Maintenance includes squeegeeing the tank on humid days and testing the water’s pH, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia levels every day.

Kaitlyn's drawingThe trip was especially victorious for two reasons: 1) Last year’s heart-breaking and inexplicable death of our trout just weeks before the scheduled release, and 2) One student had a broken leg and was on crutches. We took a wagon so she could be pulled along the dirt trails and backed into the stream to free a few fish. To the left is a picture she drew afterward of herself on crutches, holding her mom’s hand and letting go of the trout. Her write-up about the trip is below. Trout Unlimited member George Paine (one of our NVATU heroes!) also brought stream monitoring equipment so students could net water insects and identify them. More photos are below.

This program is supported by the 2015 Virginia Wildlife eStore ( Grant Program through a partnership between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia. THANK YOU for funding our big red bus!

We’d also like to thank the Dominion K12 Educational Partnership for supporting our trout-raising program.

Kaitlyn's writing

jana in pink hat id'ing bugs
Many parents and Principal Vanderhye joined the class on its big adventure. The day’s most harrowing job was making sure the water temperature in the fish cooler stayed 50-55F for the hour-long ride. Many thanks to drive Mr. Norman, who turned the bus on a dime when we went the wrong way on a winding road.

4th Grade Waste Watchers building garden to study decomposition

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Waste Watchers stuffing the scarecrow.

This winter, the 4th Grade Waste Watchers put up a popular bulletin board in the cafeteria showing how long it takes some common items to decompose. Over the four months that the board was up, we fully decomposed three bananas (in baggies). Now the 4thWW are moving their decomposition lesson outside to the courtyard.
elizabeth and alison maple syrup

In addition to creating an activity in which students can sort on a timeline how long it takes items to decompose, the Waste Watchers have picked items to bury. Each Waste Watcher filled out a form, predicting how one of those items would weather and decompose. They then took a photo of themselves with the item so we’ll have a record of what it looked like before it went underground.

Above ground, the students are creating a scarecrow out of some of the items. There will be pictures of that, too, so we can see how good it looked before being rained on, snowed on and left in the sun. A binder of the photos and forms will be in the courtyard shed. We plan to track the decomposition of the scarecrow and will dig up the items next spring — as 5th Grade Waste Watchers.

scarecrow 1

5th grade scientists in the field

girls dissect perch

Belvedere’s fifth-graders explored Kingman Island, dissecting perch; trying to catch fish off a floating dock; collecting water samples to test for pH, turbidity and dissolved oxygen; experimenting with water filtration methods, and hiking to the island’s interior to muck around in a vernal pool teeming with tadpoles and other life.

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The trip, provided by Living Classrooms and funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, is part of the oceans unit. This is the third year CBT has funded the trip; Living Classrooms also gives Belvedere a substantial discount because of the school’s Title I status.

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 1.53.55 PMHuman responsibility for taking care of the oceans and other aquatic ecosystems is the bottom line of this unit, during which students discuss when and how people should take action. Earlier this year, oceanographer Leslie Smith visited the fifth grade, and the classes have also been working with Fairfax County stream ecologist Danielle Wynne to help monitor streamed trash as part of the county’s Clean Water Act permitting activities. In June, the fifth grade will travel to Mason District Park for its annual stream clean-up.



Swimming in the SEAS: The 2016 School Environmental Action Showcase

connor and sophia at honeybees

Two Green Team members check out the honeybees.

Fourteen Belvedere students — 4th and 5th grade Green Team and Waste Watcher members — spent Wednesday at George Mason University for the 2016 School Environmental Action Showcase (SEAS), sponsored by the university and NoVA Outside.

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Girls try hats made out of newspaper.

In the showcase, they were able to see what environmental action other schools are taking. Be forewarned, Mrs. Vanderhye! In addition to the fun art projects and upcycled materials, they most loved the idea of adding chicks and beehives to Belvedere’s eco-program.

Additionally, they investigated environmental science with local conservation groups and watched videos that that they and other schools had made. Click here to see the Green Team’s video.