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Hampton City School Students Contribute Over 100,000 Oysters to Help Local Waterways and the Chesapeake Bay


Since 2016, Hampton City Schools educators have been raising oysters with their students and placing them on local sanctuary reefs in the Hampton and Back Rivers, tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.  


Teachers Jennifer Jones-Cooper (Andrews PreK-8 School); Sheryl McLaughlin (Jones Magnet Middle School); Kristen Coolbear and Marjorie Ware (Kecoughtan High School); Michele Ferrel, Paula Larson, Gretchen Cary, and Thelma Jefferson (Kilgore Gifted Center); Mallary Reynolds and Rachel Hercules (Langley Elementary School); Alexis Tharpe (Phenix PreK-8); Tirzah Sarro (Phoebus High School); and Brittany Richards (Tarrant Middle School) each received baby oysters, called spat, on September 4, 2021.  


The teachers have been bringing the oysters into their classrooms periodically so that students can measure their growth and understand random sampling techniques. In their work with the oysters, students have been introduced to many organisms that live in the Hampton and Back Rivers and Chesapeake Bay. They have been able to see animal adaptations up close and practice using a dichotomous key to identify different species. Reynolds used this opportunity to have her fifth grade students share their knowledge of oysters as they mentored Hercules’ kindergartners.


Students from Kilgore, Jones, and Langley took field trips to a sanctuary oyster reef in the Elizabeth Lake neighborhood to release their oysters. As part of the field trip, students moved through several educational stations where they:

  • engaged in a demonstration about stormwater runoff
  • learned about resilience and the Elizabeth Lake Stewardship Oak (an offspring of the Emancipation Oak)
  • added oyster shells with personal messages to the oyster reef
  • examined sponges, anemones, worms, sea squirts, and other bay organisms under microscopes
  • viewed first-hand how microplastics are making their way into oysters as a result of research being conducted by Norfolk State University biology students Tia Morton and Natelee Alvis under the direction of Dr. Ashley Haines. Before boarding the bus, students cheered as their oysters were placed on the sanctuary reef.
  • played a game to simulate the filtering capacity of oysters

Hampton City Schools oyster restoration efforts started during the 2015-16 academic year through a Bay Watershed Education and Training (BWET) grant. This year’s oyster restoration efforts were made possible through generous donations by the following organizations: 

  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation – donated oyster cages and spat grown on oyster shells
  • Elizabeth Lake Environmental Stewardship Committee – neighborhood members who volunteered their time to host field trips and share their expertise with students through a series of educational stations
  • Hampton Waterway’s Restoration Project (a subcommittee of Hampton Clean City Commission) – provided funding for student field trips to place the oysters on the sanctuary reef 
  • Shored Up (ecotourism company) – helped plan and staff the stations for the oyster field trips and donated free guided kayak trips to three of the HCS educators who are oyster gardening with their students
  • Tidewater Oyster Gardener’s Association – donated oyster floats, equipment and 4,800 spat (baby oysters)

Hampton City Schools oyster restoration serves as a model for how the school division and community organizations can work together in mutually beneficial ways. “I am so appreciative of the many community partners who came together to provide this opportunity for our students, and I love that Hampton City Schools teachers and students are looking outside themselves and are actively engaged in positively impacting their community,” said Betsy McAllister, HCS STEM teacher specialist.


Click here to see a video of the students and the oyster project.

Teachers interested in oyster gardening can contact Betsy McAllister (bmcallister@hampton.k12.va.us) and should plan to attend the oyster gardener training being offered on August 11 at Sandy Bottom Nature Park (to register:  https://forms.gle/YdrFUBrMZKagN5Ft9).