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Collaborative efforts yield educational litter sculpture at Bluebird Gap Farm

The Kecoughtan High School Governor’s STEM Academy of Architecture, Environment, and Engineering (AAEE), the Hampton Waterways Restoration Project (HWRP - a subcommittee of the Hampton Clean City Commission) and Bluebird Gap Farm have come together to create an innovative sculpture aimed at raising awareness about the detrimental impact of littering.

The project was driven by a shared commitment to fostering environmental stewardship within the community, beginning with students in Hampton City Schools (HCS). The project was spearheaded by former HWRP chair Linda Boone, Bluebird Gap Farm manager Adam Newland, with ongoing support from academy coach Evan Grummell, digital learning specialist Becca LeCompte, and academy principal Reginald Crawford. It provided academy students with real-world learning experiences while expanding educational displays at the Farm. Central to the project was the involvement of staff and students from the AAEE. Under the guidance of dedicated teachers such as Matt Pohlman, Percy Gregory, Salma Sultana, and Karen Chang, students embarked on a journey that would not only enrich their academic experience but also contribute meaningfully to their community.

The project began in the spring of 2022 with a video “pitch” to AAEE students from Adam Newland. Academy students visited the farm just before summer break, met Newland, and learned more about what Bluebird Gap Farm was asking of them. The vision for the sculpture began to take shape during the 2022-2023 academic year when the project became the problem-based learning experience for students in the AAEE. Students worked under the mentorship of Gregory and Sultana to develop initial designs and concepts. Out of the concepts that were created, students ultimately decided on creating a sculpture in the shape of a turtle they named “MORRIS.” Students selected the name “MORRIS” – an acronym that represents important actions they advocate the public undertaking to reduce litter: 

  • Make sure you recycle properly
  • Organize or join a cleanup
  • Reduce single-use plastics
  • Raise awareness of the problem of litter
  • Inform yourself
  • Spread the word

The initial plans for the sculpture, with expert advice from Beau Turner of 757 MakerSpace, had MORRIS being made from collected plastics that would be shredded and recycled, melted, and formed into bricks. With the design and the website that was created from student research, the AAEE team took second place at the KHS PBL showcase. Despite not placing in the division-wide PBL showcase, the students and teachers were not deterred. 

“The project was a labor of love for the students and the teachers who were determined to see it through to completion,” said to Grummell.  

In the winter of 2024, the MORRIS design began to evolve. Through the ingenuity and creativity of CTE teacher Matt Pohlman and his students, the design morphed into a wooden structure with a compartment covered with a clear plexiglass shell that would allow for materials to be rotated into and out of the display. MORRIS was actually constructed from plywood boards by students Christian Chinchilla-Gutierrez, Marquist Harris, Emma Hughes, Jackson Hutson, Eugene Medina, Dylan Smith, Will Snow, and Pohlman during April and early May. 

Emma Hughes said, “Making MORRIS was really fun. Cutting the sections of wood into the shape of a turtle was my favorite part.”  

Marquist Harris enjoyed sketching out the idea and creating a model of the final product. He said, “The project helped build connections within the construction community and fostered connections with community organizations.” 

Championing his students, Pohlman said, “It is a great feeling knowing we took an idea of using recycled plastic and turned it into a display that can be seen by many people. With the help of many people and organizations we took an idea, made a detailed drawing and model, then made it come to life. There is a lot of satisfaction knowing that we accomplished the goal that we set out to do.” Pohlman and students carefully loaded MORRIS into a trailer last week to be taken to Bluebird Gap Farm for painting.

As the project nears its completion, MORRIS stands as a testament to the power of collaboration and perseverance. While an installation date has not yet been set, MORRIS is poised to make a lasting impact, educating and inspiring the 100,000+ individuals who visit Bluebird Gap Farm each year to take action to safeguard the environment. While a dedication ceremony will mark the culmination of months of hard work, it will be the beginning of a new chapter in environmental education. Through the collective efforts of all involved, MORRIS serves as a beacon of hope - a reminder that positive change is possible when communities unite for a common cause.