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HCS students and teachers plant oysters on oyster reef

On April 15 and 16, 2024, Hampton City Schools teachers and students participated in field trips where they “planted” the oysters they have been raising over the course of the year on an oyster reef in the Hampton River. Community partners Elizabeth Lake Stewardship Committee, Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Shored Up, and Tidewater Oyster Gardening Association were on hand to support the students’ and teachers’ efforts. The oyster reef is located in the Elizabeth Lakes Estate neighborhood and is managed by the Elizabeth Lake Stewardship Committee.  

Fifth grade students from Cooper Elementary Magnet School for Technology (teacher oyster gardeners Alyssa Dowling and Adriane Peterson) and seventh and eighth grade students from Eaton Fundamental Middle School (teacher oyster gardener Lora Thompson) participated in the field trip on April 15. Third grade students from Armstrong School for the Arts (teacher oyster gardener Tameka Brown), first grade students from Phenix PreK-8 School (teacher oyster gardener Marcia Lewis), and fourth grade students from Kilgore Gifted Center (teacher oyster gardener Michele Ferrel) participated on April 16. The field trips were made possible through a grant provided by the Hampton Waterways Restoration Project subcommittee of the Hampton Clean City Commission.

The teachers and students transported their oysters with them on the school bus and watched as they were placed on the reef in the Hampton River. In addition to seeing their oysters “planted” on the reef, students rotated through several engaging educational stations where they learned about the structure and benefits of oyster reefs. Students participated in a guided hike with Shored Up and Elizabeth Lake Stewardship Committee members Claire Neubert and Linda Hamm where they learned more about plant and animal species of Chesapeake Bay marshes, including a pair of ospreys making their seasonal home on a local nest platform. They were also introduced to the Stewardship Oak, a descendent of the Emancipation Oak, which is planted near the reef.  

With the help of Dr. Joseph Reustle of Hampton University and Dr. Ashley Haines of Norfolk State University, and their graduate and undergraduate students, HCS students were able to investigate different species, such as anemone, tube worms, grass shrimp, and mud crabs, that make the Hampton River and Chesapeake Bay their home. They also learned about oyster research the students have been conducting at their universities.

Students learned about water quality and the anatomy of an oyster from Vic Spain and Brian Ingram of the Tidewater Oyster Gardening Association (TOGA). Students compared aquaculture and wild oysters, saw the inner workings of an oyster, and used a refractometer to measure salinity of the Hampton River.

Students learned about the powerful role of oysters in filtering the water as they simulated sediment in an active oyster filtration game. Finally, 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 and, received an oyster stamp acknowledging their participation in restoration efforts.  

Kilgore Gifted Center chaperone and student grandparent Deb Dencklau said, “What a wonderful event! Stations of learning were incredible! This was a very well organized, fun, and engaging, and such a great learning experience that these students will be able to share with others and hopefully ignite real stewardship for their environment.” 

Teacher Marcia Lewis said, “This has been my best, most enjoyable field trip in the 25 years I have been teaching.”

In addition to the schools above, teachers and students from across Hampton’s elementary, middle, and high schools have been raising oysters this year with their students: Aberdeen Elementary (Mallary Reynolds), Mary T. Christian Elementary (Loranda Jenifer and Rita Corbett), FLEx Program (Jennifer Thomason), Hampton High (Ashley Ault, Julius Zama), Jones Magnet Middle (Sheryl McLaughlin, Sabrina Burbanck), Kecoughtan High (Sally Lewis, Margie Ware, Kristen Coolbear, Karen Chang), and Langley Elementary (Julia Brockman). Teachers and students from these schools will add over 12,500 oysters to the Hampton River. Since 2016, Hampton City Schools teachers and students have added well over 150,000 oysters to local waterways, helping to achieve the Chesapeake Bay Program’s goal of placing 10 billion oysters in the Bay by 2025. Because of the efforts of HCS students and teachers since 2021, the Hampton City Schools Oyster Restoration Project received a Governor’s Excellence in Environmental Education Award and was recognized by the Hampton Clean City Commission for Water Quality/Stormwater Improvement in 2023.

TOGA is graciously donating a copy of Awesome Chesapeake: A Kid’s Guide to the Bay to each elementary and middle school that raised oysters during the 2023-2024 academic year. The book is a citizen science guide that introduces readers to organisms of the Chesapeake Bay and empowers them to monitor the health of local waterways.

Teachers interested in raising oysters with students for the 2024-2025 school year should contact Betsy McAllister (bmcallister@hampton.k12.va.us) and must attend oyster gardener training that will occur in August.