February 23, 2022


Erin Hillert, Marketing & Communications Manager, James River Association | 608.239.2644

Virginia Students Spread Awareness about Protecting the James River

NOAA B-WET Grant Funds Community Stewardship Videos Created by Students in
Amherst County, Hopewell City, and Surry County Public Schools

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

The PSAs are 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 has allowed JRA to provide environmental education to every 7th grader in the Amherst County, Hopewell City, and Surry County Public School systems. NOAA’s investment will allow JRA to engage approximately 700 7th graders within public schools  in three counties, reaching 2,100 students over the three-year course of the program.

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.

Students are working with JRA, as well as local partner groups including the Pedlar River Institute, Friends of the Lower Appomattox, 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 man’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. “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 Services 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.”

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

ABOUT THE JAMES RIVER ASSOCIATION: The James River Association is a member-supported nonprofit organization founded in 1976 to serve as a guardian and voice for the James River. Throughout the James River’s 10,000-square mile watershed, the James River Association works toward its vision of a fully healthy James River supporting thriving communities. The James River Association believes that “when you change the James, the James changes you”. With offices in Lynchburg, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Scottsville, the James River Association is committed to protecting the James River and connecting people to it. For more information visit