Did you know there’s an enormous, ancient, endangered fish swimming throughout the Chesapeake Bay? If not, the third- and fourth-grade students at Choptank Elementary School have a lot to tell you!

Over the winter, students gathered with school staff and community partners to install a mural celebrating this fish—the Atlantic sturgeon—as the culmination of a yearlong project led by ShoreRivers as part of its Sturgeon Discovery Program.

Crystal Owens, the third-grade science and social studies teacher at Choptank Elementary, was the brains behind this project, combining the needs of the school beautification committee with a desire to amplify student voice.

“My hope is that our students and community are more aware of the amazing wildlife we have living right next to us,” Owens said. “Through our partnership with Shore Rivers, students are learning to educate their community and promote healthy living environments for animals and people alike.”

Nationally-renowned local artist Shelton Hawkins led the design and installation of the mural, compiling students’ own works of art into a large, flowing piece that now decorates the school hallways and gives everyone who walks by a lesson on what the Atlantic sturgeon looks like.

“I think it’s really cool that we took the students’ actual drawings and put them together inside our own little fish river … [I] loved the way it turned out,” Hawkins, who has primarily installed murals on basketball courts. “Seeing the kids’ [smiling] faces was the best part.”

The ShoreRivers Sturgeon Discovery program is a Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience that is a part of every third-grade class in Dorchester and Talbot counties. The program was designed to support students in investigating local environmental issues like water quality, pollution and runoff, and endangered species, all through the lens of the Atlantic sturgeon. Healthy, fishable, swimmable waterways will not be possible without the next generation of clean water enthusiasts, so ShoreRivers strives to encourage in students an appreciation for our environment and a dedication to making a difference.

“Even third graders can do their part to foster healthy habitats and show support for our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Owens of the stewardship her students demonstrate.

This project was made possible with funding from the Dorchester Center for the Arts and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Bay Watershed Education and Training program. Special thanks go to Principal Laretha Payton, Crystal Owens, Shelton Hawkins, Devon Beck, Sam Peterson, and the faculty of Choptank Elementary School for their dedication to student learning, voice, and stewardship.


ShoreRivers protects and restores Eastern Shore waterways through science-based advocacy, restoration, and education.