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Local high school students present capstone projects focused on protecting the James River

The James River Association’s James River Leadership Expedition program wraps on another year of connecting students with the river and teaching them how to advocate for it.

Trevor Dickerson

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Earlier this month, high school students from all over the James River watershed gathered to present capstone projects at the Luck Companies’ Headquarters in Goochland, Virginia. It was a fitting grand finale to their participation in James River Leadership Expeditions (JRLE), a year-long leadership program offered by the James River Association (JRA) and supported by Luck Companies.

The goal of JRLE is to support, train, and inspire participants in taking personal and community-wide action to address issues facing the river. Students begin their year with JRLE during the summer with a week-long, overnight paddle trip down a stretch of the Upper, Middle, or Lower James River.

By the end of the year, participants are ready to share their experience producing a leadership-focused environmental capstone project. Using ideas gained in their summer expeditions, students choose a problem that impacts the health of the James River watershed and create a solution to implement during the program’s year.

Throughout JRLE, students collaborate on their capstone ideas and gain valuable insight from their peers and JRA mentors. Consistent check-ins and access to JRA knowledge helps students to be successful in their chosen project.

“James River Leadership Expeditions gives students the opportunity to bond with other students that share their passion for the environment and develop their network of support,” said Matt Scott Stone, JRA’s Senior Education Manager. “Students learn about the history, wildlife, and water quality of the James River. They also meet environmental professionals with different backgrounds and knowledge to build a network of contacts when applying for schools, jobs, and so much more. JRLE is an immersive, hands-on learning experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.”

On Saturday, May 4th, 28 students presented their capstone projects to a panel of experts and fellow participants. The students were met by Tyrone Cherry, the keystone speaker of the event, who created the Petersburg League of Urban Growers (P.L.U.G.). Mr. Cherry spoke on improving communities with youth outreach and urban farming.

Presentations on student capstone projects included “Combating Water Quality: An Underwater Habitat and Filtration Structure,” where JRLE participant Lindsey Jones designed a habitat that supports use from the bottom of the tidal James to the surface, with an oyster shell-laden base and nesting/resting areas above water for reptiles and birds. Other projects included creating educational materials and presenting them to elementary classrooms, removing tires and heavy commercial waste from waterways, and creating rain gardens to bolster school flood resiliency. All projects were designed and led by students, giving participants the chance to act as project leaders in improving the environment of the James River watershed.

Through three generations of family leadership, Luck Stone has been powering possibilities for its associates and in the communities where they operate.  Luck recognizes the awesome potential of every student and is committed to ensuring a sustainable future through the products they offer and their efforts to protect the environment.

“Our value for environmental stewardship led us to a partnership with the James River Association, which has been mutually beneficial for many years,” said Mark Williams, Environmental Manager, Luck Companies. “Our company works on the river, we volunteer for cleanups, we assist with the development of parks and recreation, and we share the enthusiasm of the JRLE students as we explore the many opportunities that the James River offers to us.  Luck Companies is proud to be a sponsor of the James River Leadership Expeditions, and we are inspired by these young leaders of a new generation of environmental stewards.”

By joining JRLE, students get the chance to take on an exciting year-long challenge where they develop leadership skills and working knowledge that will help them in higher education and/or their career.

To learn more about the program, visit thejamesriver.org/students-of-the-james/james-river-leadership-expeditions.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.