The Norfolk District teamed up with Seatack Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Va., and science teacher Jessica Grell in 2012. The reef project is tied to STEM by applying science and math taught in the classroom to real world applications. Students are very engaged when raising oysters, measuring their growth and observing the construction of functional reefs. District environmentalists, an oceanographer and engineers visited the school and participated in classroom discussion and feedback about the floats, reef and water salinity.
Grell was already working with her students on oyster gardening. At the time, her class was raising oysters near the Virginia Aquarium in Owl Creek. Through a mutual friend at the district, the idea of partnering surfaced for the students and district volunteers to work together using Science, Technology, Math and Engineering, or STEM, to design, build, monitor and maintain a sanctuary reef in the Elizabeth River.
The project included building Taylor floats for baby oysters, or spat to grow in, collaborate about ways to thwart off predators, as well as clean the mesh bags the oysters were in and measure the size of oysters. Through this partnership, Grell obtained oyster spat and oyster floats and the Norfolk District provided the pier and waterfront for the oyster garden. Grell brought students to monitor the oyster spat for growth and mortality, eventually planting the newly constructed reef with baby oysters.
Grell's students, our future leaders and stewards for environmental issues, focused on potential solutions such as a jetty to keep predators from going near the floats and oyster reefs to block sand to provide additional habitat. Keep in mind that these were children 10 years of age. The potential solutions were well thought out. There were some very creative options that is the kind of brainstorming and discussion that really creates interest for young students to pursue STEM related studies and careers.
Seatack Elementary School field trips continue, and Grell now teaches the 5th grade science class, keeping the interest if her students at its peak. Now that the reef construction is complete, students continue to participate in data collection, oyster education classes at the Fort, talking to district engineers and STEM members.