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Virginia students spread awareness about protecting the James River

kayaks coming onto a boat ramp in Surry
Photo: James River Association (JRA)

This past February, 7th grade life science students in public schools across the James River watershed utilized the power of video messaging by creating public service announcements (PSAs) about the importance of caring for the James River.

The PSAs were made possible thanks to a generous grant awarded to the James River Association (JRA) from the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office in 2021. These videos, conceived as part of a stewardship and community engagement focus in the grant, are just one aspect of funding that allowed JRA to provide environmental education to every 7th grader in the Amherst County, Hopewell City, and Surry County Public School systems.  Watch two examples of the students' work -  Invasive Blue Catfish PSA and the  Thermal Pollution PSA.

JRA staff began immersive environmental education with students this past fall, connecting school systems in the three school districts through Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs)centered on the question of “How can we protect aquatic ecosystems in the James River and Chesapeake Bay Watershed?” Through this lens, students and teachers have worked together with JRA educators to define an issue impacting the James River specific to their region through both virtual and in-class lessons, as well as outdoor field experiences.

Photo: James River Association

Students worked with JRA, as well as local partner groups including the Pedlar River Institute, Friends of the Lower Appomattox River, and Chippokes State Park, to learn about specific issues facing the James River within their communities and to propose solutions and strategies to address those issues. After the PSA’s have been created, students from each of the three school districts will join together in a virtual symposium in May so that they can learn about issues facing the James River within the other school districts, as well as have the chance to view each other’s PSAs.

“It has been a wonderful experience seeing these students develop and take ownership of their public service announcements,” said  Nat Draper, Director of Education for the James River Association. “The topics they have selected vary from microplastics, sediment runoff  and preserving oyster populations all relate to a healthy James River and Chesapeake Bay.”

Teachers from each of the three school districts have also taken part in professional development at the James River Ecology School at Presquile National Wildlife Refuge and VCU Rice Rivers Center as part of the grant in order to learn about health issues faced by the James, the importance of wetlands to the watershed, and humanity's impact on endangered species that call the James River home.

“Participating in the NOAA B-WET grant has afforded students at Luther Porter Jackson Middle School the opportunity to look at our waterways with fresh and compassionate eyes,” said  Brittney Custalow, Science Educator at Luther Porter Jackson Middle School, in Surry County. “Students now have a better understanding on how the health of the river affects their lives. Their study of human impacts on the lower James River and the creation of public service announcements allowed them to research areas of concern that they may not have been aware of and hopefully in the long run become better citizens and stewards of the James.”

Photo: James River Association

To learn more about JRA’s educational programming opportunities, go to