The Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) Tidewater Region hosted its Spring Network Forum at Kellam High School April 12, and Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) students and staff were present to showcase various sustainability projects and fine arts performances.
The high school’s jazz ensemble, chamber orchestra and singing ensembles Knightingales and Goodfellas performed for invited guests. The formal program also featured a theatre performance from Kellam’s production of “The Little Mermaid.”
Sustainability was the theme for an exhibit at the event, including more than a dozen projects from 13 VBCPS elementary, middle and high schools.
Microalgae, climate change, oyster restoration, recycling and learning gardens were among the featured displays.
Taylor Smith, a senior in the Governor’s STEM and Technology Academy at Landstown High School, shared his electric car conversation project.
“We made this car as an example of sustainable energy. It runs on electricity. That’s it. It’s just one battery that powers it,” explained Smith. “It’s totally available for solar integration or wind power or anything you want to do – anything other than burning fossil fuels.”
Solar energy is a new focus for Smith as a result of the solar panel Landstown received from Dominion Virginia Power this year as part of the Solar for Schools program. The one-kilowatt educational photovoltaic system converts sunlight into electric power.
“Our solar panel is really big for the kids at school,” said Smith. “It not only produces power but allows us to learn how solar technology works. And we have a real-world, in-the-field experience with solar technology.”
Smith also plans to have a little fun with it, too. An upcoming school pep rally will feature the car.
“In about three weeks it’s is going to be a functioning T-shirt launcher. It’s going to be awesome!” said Smith. “It’s going to have five T-shirt canons on a trailer that will be towed behind the car.”
Kellam High School seniors Alexis Brownlee and Iris Galante showed equal enthusiasm for their project featuring bees.
“They are incredible. They are incredible creatures!” said Brownlee.
She and Galante discussed the kind-hearted nature of bees, contrary to popular opinion, and the need to save them.
“There is a real need for bee populations to increase because, at this point, 50 percent of Virginia bees are dying every year,” said Brownlee, noting parasites and pesticides as key contributors to the problem.
Galante added that most people don’t know what bees do and how they help agriculture.
“Bees never want to sting you because when they sting you they die,” Galante said. “If they ever do try to sting someone it’s because they are scared defending their hive. They are giving their life to defend their whole colony.”
Kellam students are studying bee colonies with a bee hive on school property. They also harvest and sell honey at the school – 8 ounces for $12. “That’s the same, if not a little bit cheaper than what you would get at a farmers market,” added Brownlee.
“It’s fairly simple to harvest,” said Galante. “We do leave the bees with some of their honey and their wax because we do respect that they need it to survive. We use it to support our club and raise awareness.”
Seventh-graders at Virginia Beach Middle School want to build awareness about phragmites, an invasive plant that pushes out plants native to the area. Students found the weed in their rain garden at VBMS.
“They are a type of weed and they spread like crazy,” explained Brady Callahan. “Our goal is to get rid of them completely and there are different ways of doing that.”
“We’re trying to find out the best way,” Michael Suh said. “We have different methods like flushing out all the sunlight, putting down salt, trying to change the pH of the soil and pulling them out manually.”
“Which proves to be pretty hard,” interjected Cheney Everett. “I’m part of the group that digs them out, and we had to have help from our teacher. They can cut you. We have gloves and shovels.”
Recycling and reusing products was the focus of John B. Dey (JBD) Elementary School students at the event.
“If we recycle the wrong things, it takes people a while to take out the stuff that is bad,” noted one JBD student.
Her peer noted another issue. “Plastic bags get stuck in the conveyors, and they have to stop the whole machine and pull them out,” she said.
The students encouraged visitors to reuse recyclable items, such as plastic bags, when they can and cautioned that we should always recycle. “If you put things you could recycle in the trash, it makes the landfills get bigger and bigger,” explained a student adding that rain runoff from landfills may pollute other water sources.
Clean air, with help from trees, was highlighted by Bettie F. Williams Elementary School students.
“It’s important to save trees because this is how we are staying alive. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out CO2. The trees take in CO2 and breathe out oxygen,” explained student-presenter Jaden. “The more we cut down these trees, the more CO2 is just going to go around. Sooner or later we may not have any oxygen. This is why we need trees. We also need them as shelter for animals. The more trees we cut down the less shelter we have for animals.”
Their display features a photo of “Big Mama,” the name fondly given to the biggest tree, a live oak, on their school grounds.
Williams students designed a tree tagging campaign – tree hashtags or tree#tags – to post the names of trees on signs in the ground. Big Mama will get the first tree#tag.
“We made this project to help save trees and give awareness to trees, but also doing it in a fun and labeling them so people know trees by name,” explained Ariyanna.
After VSBA guests toured displays of students and staff, the event’s formal program featured a presentation by VBCPS sustainability officer Tim Cole regarding the division’s sustainability efforts.
Special thanks to all of the schools who participated in the VSBA Tidewater Region event: Alanton Elementary School, Bettie F. Williams Elementary School, John B. Dey Elementary School, Kellam High School, Kemps Landing/Old Donation School, Landstown Elementary School, Landstown High School, Ocean Lakes High School, Plaza Middle School, Seatack Elementary School, Thoroughgood Elementary School, Virginia Beach Middle School and Woodstock Elementary School.