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Hampton High School’s Maritime Academy focuses on water quality and sustainability

Students in Hampton High School’s Maritime Academy, under the direction of teacher Connor O’Brien Dunn and academy principal Haneef Majied, have been hard at work exploring creative solutions to issues of water quality and sustainability through their project based learning (PBL) experience entitled “Keep Hampton Afloat.”  

Academy teachers and students took field trips to the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center to learn about the ecological and economic importance of the seafood industry to the Commonwealth and about unique aquaculture research occurring in our backyard. Staff and students also visited the innovative SWIFT (Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow) Treatment Plant where they received an in-depth tour from Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s (HRSD) community education and outreach specialist, Lacie Wever. Students learned how HRSD is working to address issues of water quality and the sustainability of our region’s groundwater supply. SWIFT takes wastewater that has undergone treatment at wastewater facilities (and that would otherwise be released into local waterways) through additional treatment processes to produce water that is safe for drinking. SWIFT treated water is chemically matched and added to the primary groundwater supply for eastern Virginia – the Potomac Aquifer. Before leaving the facility, academy students had the opportunity to try the water.  

In addition, Dunn’s students worked with Tidewater Oyster Gardening Association (TOGA) members Vic Spain and Brian Ingram on January 5 and January 12 to learn how to build 20 Rough Rider oyster cages. Oysters are filter feeders and naturally remove toxins, bacteria, and sediment from the water. It is estimated that a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a day. TOGA will sell the oyster cages at their spring float sale to individuals interested in raising oysters. TOGA donated $30 per cage (cost of the cages minus the donated equipment and tools) for a total of $600 to the Maritime Academy for use in purchasing oyster spat and other materials they need to continue to grow their project.

On March 1, Spain and Ingram brought additional supplies and worked with Maritime Academy students to build oyster spat cages that will be donated to the Hampton City Schools Oyster Restoration Project to expand the number of teachers in the division who will be raising oysters with their students during the 2023-2024 school year. 

Dunn said that a quote from his grandmother, Mary Steggeman, kept coming to mind as he worked with students on this project, ‘Life is full of memories, so make the most you can while you are on this Earth.’ He and his students have made many wonderful memories over the last few months while positively impacting the environment and ultimately all those who share the planet.