WHRO Public Media was founded to support local K–12 school divisions. Our station was formed as Virginia’s first non-commercial, educational television station that brought televised teaching into our region’s classrooms—and education is still at the heart of all we do.

In the last couple of years, under the Batten Environmental Education Initiative, developed through a generous gift given by Jane Batten, we’ve focused resources around environmental education. We recently sat down with Mitzi Fehl-Seward, vice president of digital learning, and Elmer Seward, vice president of education services, to hear about new developments under this initiative as well as their future plans for WHRO Education.

WHRO has a new environmental van to add to our community outreach programs. Could you tell us more about the plans for this van?

Elmer: Ideally, the van will visit schools. It will have a K-2 program and a 3-5 program. Students will have an opportunity to interact with the learning objects that the digital learning team is putting together. Those will tie into the lessons that we take into the school and the curriculum will align with the Standards of Learning (SOL), specifically the science SOL.

It will also have a walk-through component. There are four 27-inch, all-in-one touch screen monitors that are mounted in the van. Students will be able to go into the van and interact with the content that we’ve put together. We'll also be able to take the van to summer camps, the children's festival and other large gatherings. We plan on having a VR 360 experience for the upper elementary students.

greenbeats goodbugs

Watch the GreenBeats series.

Mitzi: Each grade level will explore a different WHRO GreenBeats video. We will send instructional materials prior to the van visit so we know that students have heard some of the songs, and talked about some of the topics that they'll dive into. We have iPads for K-2 students to explore some of the learning objects that we've designed. We also have post-lessons that teachers can conduct after the van visit, designed for a home- school connection. Students can take what they learned and still be able to access the digital content from home.

Elmer: Yes, and the VR 360 experience for grades 3-5 wil give students a chance to see what sea level rise will look like over time.

Why do you feel like environmental education is so important for students?

Elmer: This planet is going to be the planet they live on, their children live on, and their children's children live on, and if we don't learn to take care of it then we're leaving a legacy for them that I don't think we want to leave.

Mitzi: The Department of Education has provided guidelines for an environmental science course. At WHRO, we're in the field of providing rich, quality online courses. That's one of the things we do in the digital learning department. Like Elmer says, for their future and their children’s future, environmental education is critical. So for us, I think not only the mission of environmental education but that idea of creating a resource that will benefit thousands of students is really important to the work that we do.

In the last year, your teams have really had to change some of the ways you deliver services and what you provide. As you look to the future, what are your plans for WHRO Education?

Mitzi: We have a really talented staff that was able to rise up and meet the needs of school divisions, of teachers, of families, and of students during the COVID-19 pandemic. You don't want to say that COVID-19 was a good thing--because I don't feel that way--but it presented an opportunity for WHRO to shine and to help meet those needs. Now is a time to reset, because I think education will be forever changed from this period in time. It will probably never look the same as it did prior to March 13, 2020. It's left an impression. It's left a stamp on the future of education. And in some ways, I think, in a good way because it will allow us to better meet the needs of students and provide more diverse instruction.

martha reads week1

Martha Reads, a weekly Facebook series, began during the pandemic and has grown in popularity. Watch it Fridays at 10 a.m. on Facebook.

So, as we look to the future of education, we do the same thing here at WHRO. We ask, “What can we do? How can we help foster students being successful in learning, and how do we support parents and school divisions and our school administrators? What roles do we play? How can we create a larger impact on education?” These are the types of questions that are guiding our discussions for the future.

Elmer and I are both career educators. Elmer started as an English teacher at middle school. I started as a kindergarten teacher. Elmer's been an assistant principal, principal, and director of technology. We’ve both worked as administrators for Virtual Virginia. So, we've always lived and breathed education. For us, it's a passion. It's a passion to meet the needs of our students and the needs of our teachers. I think having been educators in the classroom helps keep us grounded into what teachers need. We have those ties to school that really help us in leading WHRO into the future.

Elmer: Another thing I want to note is it's not just Mitzi and me. We've got a whole team of talented professionals in the education department. Many of them are former teachers.

What is one thing you'd like readers to know about WHRO Education that they may not already know?

Elmer: Our resources are created by educators, for educators. I think we've worked really hard to let people know that we're actually owned by 21 school divisions. We are basically part of a consortium of school divisions. And yet I think people still see us primarily as a broadcast studio, and I understand that because that is our public facing side. We are that, but we’re also more than that.

Mitzi: We try really hard to listen to our school divisions and then try to meet their needs. We have a rich, ongoing relationship with school divisions throughout the commonwealth. In addition, we work with the most fabulous, dynamic people in education that do really hard work, and great work, to meet the needs of our community. I feel so fortunate to get to work with this team of people because I know they're so dedicated to the work that we do at WHRO. All across the WHRO organization, it's a huge collaboration. It is a blessing to get to work with people like this.

Explore WHRO Education's resources for teachers and families.