7th graders wasted no time getting back down to business upon returning to school after Christmas break. On January 4th, the class went on Hampton Waste Watchers' Tour de Trash, setting up background knowledge for a collaborative STEM learning experiment with Mrs. Louise Schaeffler, Ms. Amber Seeley, and Mrs. Julie Moberly.

Starting out at the TFC Recycling Facility, students were able to see where curbside recyclables are sorted and prepared for shipment as a first step into being turned into new products. From there, students were ushered to the Bethel Landfill where municipal waste from homes/businesses on the peninsula is disposed. The bus was able to get the students close to the action, inching up the muddy road of the landfill to get close to the different layers and sections that make up the facility.

After departing the landfill, students got a little more hands-on experience at the (Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority) VPPSA Composting Facility. Walking around giant mounds of leaves, grass, branches, and other yard trimmings, Wolfhound students were able to see compost/mulch being made by specialized equipment being utilized on a very specific schedule. It was amazing to see how hot the heaps were, just from sitting there!

The final stop on the Tour de Trash was The Steam Plant in Hampton, where household waste is burned to create steam and electricity that powers experiments at NASA Langley Research Center. Students were amazed at the amount of trash (and smells!) that cycled through the plant, which has conserved million gallons of fuel oil, acres of landfill space, and saved the city millions of dollars in disposal cost since opening in 1980.

After the day-long tour of waste facilities, students were prepped and ready to tackle a hypothetical, yet reality based STEM-based situation: How could our team of students re-sort and be reimbursed for separating 2,400 cubic meters of debris washed loose after the floods of a fictional hurricane? Students were tasked with developing a process for sorting the materials using different density liquids, sieves, and magnets. Once the materials were sorted, students determined the mass of samples and used ratios to calculate the total mass of all materials. Then, they determined the price they would be paid if they sent materials to the recycling center versus taking a lump sum payment from the city for their work. Working across their math and science classes, students were able to develop innovative ideas to solve a problem in their community context.

In fact, as a further connection to our city, students were enlightened by Norfolk City Manager and Wolfhound parent Doug Smith, as he spoke about specific issues our city is facing with waste removal. Additionally, Mr. Smith’s chat with the students was a call to action, encouraging the 7th graders to embrace their rights and responsibilities are citizens of Norfolk as environmental stewards. Inspired by the project, some students wrote Mr. Smith letters as a way to persuade the city with their own thoughts and ideas regarding waste management.

While the Tour de Trash itself took a handful of hours, and the culminating STEM recycling activity lasted only a few days, the feeling among 7th graders is that the lessons learned due to the cross-curricular experience as a whole are long-lasting. With a greater understanding of our human impact on the environment and the logistics that goes into an often overlooked city infrastructure, the class is moving ahead with their eyes open, looking for more ways to be forces of good in their community and beyond.