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Students and Teachers Plant Oysters on Oyster Reef

Despite the drizzly weather, Hampton City Schools teachers and students planted oysters they raised over the course of the year with great enthusiasm on May 31 and June 1 at the Elizabeth Lake Estate’s oyster reef with the help of community partners Shored Up and the Elizabeth Lake Stewardship Committee. 

Students from Hampton High School’s ecology club (teacher sponsor Ashley Ault) and Maritime Academy (CTE teacher Connor Dunn), Kilgore Gifted Center’s fourth grade (teachers Michele Ferrel, Paula Larson, Gretchen Cary, and Thelma Jefferson), Phoebus High School oceanography classes and the Floating Classroom (teacher Tirzah Sarro), Jones Magnet Middle School ecology club (teacher sponsors Sheryl McLaughlin and Sabrina Burbanck), Armstrong School for the Arts third grade (teachers Tameka Brown, Tina Becouvarakis, Kat Edmondson), and Mary Christian Elementary fifth graders from Mallary Reynolds’ class (with teacher Loranda Jenifer), and Andrews PreK-8 first graders from Ashley Finkel’s class watched as their oysters were placed on a reef in the Hampton River. Because of the high tide, the oysters were rowed out to the reef.

In addition, students rotated through several stations learning about the structure and benefits of an oyster reef and trees such as the Stewardship Oak, which is planted near the reef. Students added shell substrate to the reef by writing a positive message for oysters and the environment on a recycled oyster shell and throwing it onto the reef. Students also participated in a guided walk to learn more about plant and animal species of Chesapeake Bay marshes and were able to watch a pair of osprey building their nest. Finally, students simulated sediment in an active oyster filtration game modeled on “sharks and minnows” before receiving an oyster stamp and heading back to their school. The Vacation Channel, filming a promotional segment for the city of Hampton, taped students from Jones and Phoebus as they moved through the educational stations and talked about their experience raising oysters.  

Sheryl McLaughlin said, “My students had a blast!”  

“The students have become quite the environmentalists. Such a wonderful thing to expose our students to,” shared Michele Ferrel.

Twenty-one teachers across 13 of Hampton’s elementary, middle, and high schools have been raising oysters with their students this year, adding over 10,000 oysters to the Hampton River. Since 2016, Hampton City Schools teachers and students have added well over 120,000 oysters to local waterways, helping to achieve the goal of placing 10 billion oysters in the Bay by 2025. Because of the efforts of HCS students and teachers over the last two years, the Hampton City Schools Oyster Restoration Project received a Governor’s Excellence in Environmental Education award. HCS was the only school division in the state to receive an award.

Teachers interested in raising oysters with students for the 2023-2024 school year should contact Betsy McAllister (bmcallister@hampton.k12.va.us) and sign up for the oyster gardener training scheduled for August 1 (Summer Learning Playbook) no later than July 14.