HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – School districts across Hampton Roads are always looking for ways to enrich student learning. Hampton City Public Schools was awarded a sizable grant to work with the James River Association and National Park Service.

Over the summer months, the James River Association has been helping teachers learn more about water quality and native species.

“Learning about whether or not the water is polluted is extremely important to our water shed,” said Katie Ferrell, Lower James Education Manager. “So if water is polluted, we are not going to have that many species in this area.”

Ferrell works to help teachers connect lessons to the environment. More than 1,500 students will participate in the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience. 65 Hampton City Schools 5th grade teachers stepped out of the classroom this summer for lessons at Ft. Monroe and on the James River. 

“The kids are excited, the teachers are excited,” said Dr. Janice Richardson, HCP Science Program Lead. “For them to come out here and get hands-on experience tied to real world application and incorporated in their lessons… it’s just awesome!”

During the academic year, students will complete a virtual lesson before the watershed field trip. Once on the boat, young scientists will test their hypotheses, water levels, and classify organisms. 

“This is fantastic,” said Ross Whitlock, a Hampton 5th grade teacher. “This is where we are so blessed to live in an area where you can go out and study the ecology right here on the waterfront and the history of Ft. Monroe.”

Ross Whitlock is entering his 15th year as an educator and this professional development session is a great way to sharpen his craft.  Whitlock said he looks forward to when his students have that “ah-ha” moment. 

“That is what a teacher lives for. The light bulb. We get it and want to pass it on to them. This experience really triggers that,” said Whitlock.

On Wednesday, August 24, the program received the Excellence in Education Award, presented by the National Park Service at the Department of Main Interior Building in Washington, D.C. Representatives from the National Park Service Chesapeake Office, Hampton City Schools, and the James River Association accepted the award.