Fourth Graders Sail on the Salish Sea

Community in Action

Ten Bellingham elementary schools took their fourth graders on the Salish Sea Experience. The trip took place between May 26 and June 17 at the end of the 2014-15 school year. In total, 27 individual classes, 546 students and 251 chaperones had the opportunity to participate.

During the Salish Sea Experience students traveled to Lime Kiln Point State Park located on the west side of San Juan Island. Once there, students ate lunch on the rocks and participated in three main classes.

During the first class, students took turns learning to identify individual killer whales with Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tale. They also learned how to identify the gender of a whale as well as if a killer whale was pregnant or sick with Dr. Deborah Giles of Conservation Canines, who collects whale scat for analysis.

The second class included a presentation from Dr. Bob Otis, a retired professor from Ripon College who has been studying whales for 25 years. The students watched a presentation in the lighthouse on orca behavior and the impact humans have through pollution.

Finally, students got to enjoy hands-on interaction with sea life through the exploration of tide pools along the rocky seashore. They took turns identifying sea creatures through pictures and diagrams and learned how to handle tide pool creatures in a responsible manner with the help of the trip coordinator Krista Gordon.

Throughout the trip, schools saw three different resident orca pods, transient orcas and a humpback whale.

“I loved going and exploring the rocky sea shore because I got to see stuff I have never seen and I got to be there with friends,” said a Lowell Elementary School student.

Volunteers who helped chaperone the student field trip also noted how valuable this experience was for the students.

“Students learned about orcas from several experts. They also got to see and touch small sea creatures and the ferry ride was also a valuable experience,” said a Silver Beach Elementary chaperone.

Gordon noted that the overall goal of the field trip was to provide an educational experience that brought meaning to student learning in the classroom by creating a connection to their local environment and a desire to apply what they learned.

Students came away from the Salish Sea Experience with a stronger awareness of the human impact of pollution and a greater respect for sea creatures and the environment. Many students said they would continue protecting the ecosystem by picking up trash, using less water and electricity and raising money to protect the endangered sea creatures.

“The most important thing I learned is that everything we do impacts sea life. This is important because then we know how we can help whales and sea life in general,” said a Silver Beach Elementary School student.

This trip was made possible through generous donations and grants. Alderwood Elementary fourth graders sang environmental lyrics to the tune of “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, to win a $900 grant from the National Park Trust for the “Kids in the Park” Day contest. The “Kids in the Park” Day contest is a national contest that seeks to fund STEM field trips for low-income schools to a local park to encourage students to be active and experience their environment while developing stewardship skills.  This $900 grant was used to help fund the Salish Sea Experience.

The support of all contributors allowed trip coordinators to provide equal opportunity to Bellingham Public Schools and empower every child to develop and discover a passion that will help them contribute to healthy seas in the future.

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