Important lessons taught

Published 8:19 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For most kids in the seventh grade, spending a day on the water means hanging out on a float at the neighborhood pool or spending time with family and friends at the beach.

But for seventh-grade students in Suffolk, the phrase recently meant spending a cold morning learning about the waterways around Suffolk from aboard a boat contracted from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a program funded through the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance with donations from Green Mountain Coffee and individual donors.

Aboard the “Bea Hayman Clark,” students have had an up-close-and-personal look at some of the creatures that live in the waters of Chuckatuck Creek and the James River. For many of the students, the trip has been the first time they’ve gotten a glimpse of what lives beneath the waters they cross on bridges so many days of the year.

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“It’s an outdoor classroom experience,” said Elizabeth Taraski, executive director of the NRPA.

Students got a chance to handle the fish and other critters as they were transferred to transparent plastic tubs filled with water from nets that had been cast into the water. An educator from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation went through each species that had been raised in the net, explaining the features that help them defend themselves, find food, reproduce and ultimately survive.

Students also learned a little about the history of Suffolk’s waterfront villages — Eclipse, Crittenden and Hobson — that grew up around the oystering their residents were able to do along Chuckatuck Creek. They got a brief lesson in economics when they then learned about the decline of those communities following the decline of the oyster business. Where once there had been many boats working the waters of Suffolk, now there are only two, they heard.

Having learned on their boat trips about the historic importance of the waterways to Suffolk, the students now have a connection to the city’s history that should give them a broader appreciation of their city as they grow older.

And having learned about the importance of the ecosystems represented along and within Suffolk’s waterways, they should now have a deeper appreciation of the need to protect the city’s rivers and creeks from pollution.

Both sets of lessons were important ones, and the NRPA is to be congratulated for continuing to work to make sure such lessons are imparted to new generations of Suffolkians.