Class Spotlight: Ms. Tolstyga-McGibbon’s class from ORLA

South Sound GREEN works with over 60 classes annually in Thurston County, and we are constantly impressed and inspired by efforts of our teachers and their students in promoting environmentalism and conservation. Here, we’re featuring Ms. Tolstyga-McGibbon and her class from the Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA), who all participate in South Sound GREEN’s Water Quality Monitoring program.

Watershed Warriors by Claire Tolstyga-McGibbon

Inspired by the “dire” condition of Indian Creek and the surrounding area, students at ORLA Montessori Hedgehog Class decided to take action. Since they knew that 137 species depend on salmon, they got busy. After completing water quality tests on their test site, it appeared that salmon could live in our creek and wondered why they weren’t there. They researched and discovered that Indian Creek merges with Moxlie Creek which goes underground under the City of Olympia. So, they kept asking what they could do. 

Students initiated and started a garbage cleanup routine at lunchtime on their school playground. This got more students involved. They initiated an Environmental Club at school to get more people involved. They organized a whole school assembly inviting Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales to come to discuss the state of our critically endangered South Resident Killer Whales. They started their own Orca Task Force to help the Orcas and salmon recovery efforts since the Orca depends on salmon. As a result, they formed an education team which presented lessons to other classes on SRKW’s and salmon recovery. They started a fund raising committee where they made products and sold them during our winter fair. This allowed them to adopt a whale, baby Tofino. They became members of The Whale Research Center. In addition, they formed a political action team. They wrote letters to NOAA to help support stronger vessel regulation laws. They wrote letters to our legislature on Water Lobby Day in February to advocate for a plastic bag ban, Styrofoam ban, suction mining dredging ban and more. They have written letters about the impact of homelessness on our streams (which has not yet been delivered as a result of Coronavirus shutdowns).

The group of students that started the Plastics Cleanup Crew and The Environmental Club
Jeff Hogan from Killer Whale Tale presenting to ORLA after students organized the event for the whole school

They continue to try to advocate for changes in their own homes. They have researched safe household cleaners to use at home in place of chemicals that are harmful to our waters. All in all, that first inspirational trip to our Indian Creek test site, changed our class, their focus, and their commitment to social service. 

You can read two of the letters written by Ms. Tolstyga-McGibbon’s students below.