Students share environmental projects during summit

It was refreshing this week to join 250 students of all ages at the GreenSTEM Summit in Belfair, where young people shared environmental projects they had been working on through the year. Check out my story in Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Jaclyn Davis, 9, a third-grader at Breidablik Elementary School in North Kitsap, looks for birds during Tuesday's GreenSTEM Summit.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

The students came prepared to discuss their projects with others. While some students were more technically astute than others, it was clear that most had learned a great deal from the experience. Most of the 10 schools represented at the summit were engaged in some type of ecosystem analysis, such as monitoring streams for water quality.

During the first part of the day, the students visited educational displays, where experts talked about issues ranging from steelhead to cooking oysters and clams, including geoducks.

Later in the day, they became involved in “nature mapping” at the 40-acre Pacific Northwest Salmon Center. Nature mapping involves observing animals and writing notes in data sheets, as professional researchers would do.

As swallows swooped overhead, Dan Hannafious of the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group urged the students to become observers of their surroundings at all times. He told the story of a fourth-grade class that had studied the animals inhabiting an area near their school. When it came time for state agencies to design a road project, the fourth-grade students were the authorities they consulted.

Jacklin Marshall, 11, a fifth-grader at Breidablik Elementary School, logs data during a "nature mapping" field study on Tuesday.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

“Learn the landscape where you live,” Hannafious said. “Understand the power of information.”

Karen Lippy of the Olympic Educational Service District added, “The idea that you are powerful is an idea you need to own. You are the leaders. You are going out there and making a difference.”

Lippy quoted Margaret Mead and later provided her exact words: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

GreenSTEM is a yearlong effort that began last summer when teachers stepped up to become pioneers in this new environmental program. Because of state teaching standards and testing requirements, it is important that these outdoor studies not become an add-on to the existing curriculum, according to Lippy. Normal studies, including math, science and English, must be woven into the program to make sure all the bases are covered.

The “Evolution of Environmental Education” is something I wrote about for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day last year. Please review my story in the Kitsap Sun, April 17, 2010, and Water Ways from April 22, 2010, which links to other outdoor learning programs.

The organizers of Tuesday’s event will be evaluating how well the program worked this year. They hope to bring GreenSTEM to at least one class in every school in the region, assuming funding is available.

During my brief time with the students, it became clear to me that they were having fun while gaining knowledge and experience that probably will stick with them for life. If some choose to pursue careers in science or engineering, we will all be better for it.

Students from nine schools discuss projects in "sharing circles" at the GreenSTEM Summit.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

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