Monthly Update: July 2020

Northwest Youth Corp participants running water quality tests at a Capitol Land Trust site!

Can you believe that we’re halfway through the summer already? While this summer is certainly different than most, we’re still taking on exciting new projects and preparing for the upcoming school year, whatever that may look like!

As the possibility of field trips this fall becomes less likely, we are developing new ways to engage students with our Water Quality Monitoring program, the most popular South Sound GREEN offering for local schools. One way we’re doing so is by documenting all of our testing sites with pictures and videos. Even if students can’t visit the sites themselves, they can still see what their site looks like – and hopefully while testing water from that site that we bring to them! It’s been a fun project to visit all 50+ sites and remind myself about how beautiful our local aquatic environments can be.

Additionally, we had the incredible opportunity this month to do water quality testing with students – in person! We worked with the Capitol Land Trust, who is hosting a group from the Northwest Youth Corp on one of their preserves. These students are living in isolation for weeks while working on conservation and reforestation projects daily. In doing so, these students effectively self-quarantine, so we were able to be a part of their nightly speaker series and bring hands-on activities as well! After talking with the students about the local watershed and salmon, we tested the water quality of the nearby salmon-bearing creek. It was South Sound GREEN’s first in-person interaction with students in about four months, and it felt great to be working with these environmentally conscious high schoolers face-to-face (or mask-to-mask). And as a bonus, the water quality results all looked great too!

South Sound GREEN is still publishing weekly Home Science Activities in ThurstonTalk, and you can find all of those activities here. School might not be starting for another month, but when it gets here we’ll be ready!


Monthly Update: June 2020

Stephanie leads a virtual nearshore field trip at Boston Harbor Marina for Komachin Middle School.

What an exciting month for us at South Sound GREEN! After weeks of missing our usual field experiences and classroom visits, we had the unique opportunity this month to host our first ever virtual nearshore field trips! Joined by teachers from Komachin Middle School, we ventured out to Boston Harbor Marina and Tolmie State Park to collect some amazing intertidal and subtidal organisms and present them to sixth graders while they watched from the comfort of their homes. While we certainly miss showing students these creatures face-to-face (the lack of “oohs” and “ahhs” was noticeable!), we loved having the chance to share some marine invertebrates with students and reveal what’s living in their nearby South Sound shores. We can’t wait to have in-person field experiences again, but after these virtual field trips, we know we will be ready to provide more distance learning opportunities in the fall if we need to!

With the school year wrapping up, South Sound GREEN was also preparing for our annual Summer Institute for Teachers, a three-day event for teacher networking, environmental education resources, and, typically, an exploration of local natural areas. Always adapting to the circumstances, this year we worked with our partners at Nisqually River Education Project, Chehalis Basin Education Consortium, and the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to provide our first ever Stay In-stitute, a virtual training experience! Usually, this event is directed towards local teachers, however because of the virtual nature of the program, we were able to extend our reach this year and had teacher participants from all over Washington state attend! We had incredible speakers and sessions this year, from learning about harmful algal blooms in the Pacific Northwest from a NOAA oceanographer to having in-depth and powerful discussion about race and youth voice within the classroom and environmental education settings. We were even able to offer teachers the opportunity to participate in action projects throughout the county (with limits to maintain socially acceptable distances!) and in their own backyard. Our 45 teacher participants were engaged and patient as we were navigating a new Institute format, and overall the first ever Stay In-stitute was a success!

Looking to the future, we plan on spending this summer adjusting our curriculum for whatever the next school year looks like. But if you’re still looking for projects to do over the summer, we’re still writing weekly Home Science Activities for ThurstonTalk!


Monthly Update: May 2020

Some of our educators and teachers in our Zoom CLAMSS Fellows Meeting!

Can you believe we’re already done with May? Now in our second month of complying with the state’s Stay at Home order, South Sound GREEN has adapted to our new normal and are continuing to provide the best resources possible for our amazing local teachers and students. We are regularly creating environmental education activities through our weekly Home Science Activity articles for ThurstonTalk, and regularly updating our student and teacher resources on our website to promote some of the materials created by local education organizations. We would be usually going on nearshore field trips this time of year to bring students to Puget Sound beaches and help them connect their freshwater monitoring site with the marine environment. However, in response to the Stay Home Stay Healthy order, we started working with some of our local partners to design a full online course to replicate our field trip experience from home. While we know that nothing compares to getting outside and seeing some native critters yourself, we hope that this course can be a nice alternative for the students!

Along with field trips, we have had to think differently about another one of our favorite in-person activities, teacher professional development. But much like our curriculum, we’re finding ways to do that online as well. This month, we had our first all-online Climate Literacy, Action, and Monitoring in South Sound (CLAMSS) Fellows professional development meeting for teachers, involving 23 teachers from Thurston and Pierce counties all on a Zoom call. We are so inspired by these educators and their efforts to teach effectively and interactively from their homes, and our goal was to not only provide them with resources to use in their virtual classrooms, but to connect with each other and strengthen their network of support. Talks from local artist and Thurston Climate Action Team member Carrie Ziegler (check out her latest collaborative art project here!) and University of Washington and Puget Sound Restoration Fund research assistant Emily Buckner were insightful and engaging. Breakout rooms allowed for formal and informal educators to bounce ideas off of one another and share tips for better adapting to the current circumstances. Overall, the meeting was a massive success.

We have more upcoming teacher events, including our annual Summer Institute for Teachers, that we’re anticipating as virtual events as well. We’re excited to find ways of being creative while distant during these challenging times, but we still look forward to getting to interact with students and teachers again in the near future!


Monthly Update: April 2020

An example of a phenology wheel from our Fun with Phenology activity

For South Sound GREEN, April has historically been one of our busiest times, with lots of Nearshore field trips to Puget Sound scheduled to take advantage of the longer days and nicer weather. This year, with the new normal of self-isolation and home-based schooling, we had to cancel all of our field trips and outdoor experiences and find new ways to reach our students and teachers. We tried to make the best of this unusual situation to create unique, engaging environmental experiences for students to do from their home or local green spaces. We partnered with Thurston Talk to distribute multiple Home Science Activities every week, ranging from running through Salmon Obstacle Courses to building rain gauges for Rainy Day Research to even becoming a Time Traveling Nature Journalist (or at least pretending to time travel)! We also have compiled and organize dozens of educational resources on our website for teachers and students, and even put together a Virtual Spring Break from Home with videos from some of the most beautiful places on Earth.  

We have been regularly checking in with teachers to hear about the challenges they face from teaching at home and to figure out how we can help. This includes building relevant curricula and online lesson plans for students of all grade levels, and we’re hoping to take the next step into video lessons and webcasts in the near future. Self-isolating doesn’t mean that you can’t learn about the natural world!

We’re eagerly awaiting the opportunity to get back outside with students, but are doing our part to make the most of the circumstances and stay safe in the process. Remember to get outdoors and get some fresh air during the beautiful spring weather!


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.