SOE, Life Sciences awarded $447,000 NOAA grant

Over 3,300 students to be engaged in meaningful watershed educational experiences

VCU students conduct scientific studies in the James River.
Students will collect data on water quality to support bivalves in their watersheds and exchange data among schools, as well as share their projects with local audiences, academic researchers, other schools and state representatives.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded the VCU School of Education and VCU Life Sciences a three-year $447,000 Bay Watershed and Education Training (B-WET) grant titled Bivalves as Ecosystems Sustaining Treasures (BEST) in Bay Watersheds.

This initiative will transform students’ understanding of the importance of protecting their local watershed along the James River in Virginia. Bivalves will be used as the contextual theme connecting inland riverine and coastal marine ecosystems along an ecological continuum. Students will engage in hands-on investigations using NOAA Education Modules informed by aligned research from scientists and graduate students from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Life Sciences and the VCU School of Education. They will also collect data on water quality to support bivalves in their watersheds and exchange data among schools, as well as share their projects with local audiences, academic researchers, other schools and state representatives. The effort is working with middle school teachers from public school systems in Charles City County, Colonial HeightsNew Kent County and Newport News.

Every student in specific grades each year will participate in a local hands-on field investigation of their surrounding area and design and implement a stewardship action project that is informed by their findings. Example action projects may include efforts such as cleaning up a local stream, reducing run-off in storm water drains or agricultural areas through community awareness campaigns, or even assisting in oyster shell recycling initiatives.

This effort will be achieved through an in-depth and sustained year-long teacher professional learning experience for educators from each of the participating school districts beginning at the VCU Rice Rivers Center and leveraging local resources such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Center at the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery which hosts the Virginia Fisheries and Aquatic Wildlife Center.

Engaging students in relevant issues germane to the locale in which they live will include defining local watersheds, human impact on watersheds, water quality to support bivalve habitats, threatened and endangered species (e.g., freshwater mussels), invasive species and the economically valuable commercial fisheries that bivalves support (e.g., oysters). This effort will immerse teachers, and in turn their students, in authentic hands-on investigations where students then design actionable solutions to support their findings.

“NOAA is pleased to award this Chesapeake B-WET grant to Virginia Commonwealth University," said Sean Corson, acting director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office. "This project will use a truly innovative approach to help students and teachers understand the value of healthy shellfish to Virginia’s Bay watershed as well as the role all of us can play in preserving the Commonwealth’s natural resources.”

“This is truly a compelling learning opportunity that supports Virginia’s Standards of Learning that we are so pleased to provide,” said Dr. Al Byers, principal investigator of the effort. He is joined by co-principal investigators, Dr. Elizabeth Edmondson in the School of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning, Dr. James Vonesh, assistant director of the VCU Center for Environmental Studies, and Dr. Greg Garman, director of the Rice Rivers Center at VCU.

We are also honored to have the support of the STEM leadership across the state that includes Virginia Secretary of Education Dr. Atif Qarni, the Interim Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Innovation Dr. Tina Manglicmot of the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia STEM Coordinator Mr. Chuck English, and U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin from Virginia’s 4th District. Together we can ensure Virginia is for All Learners!