Program Highlights


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.


Monthly Update: March 2020

Students from Salish Middle School plant native species and close out the planting season in early March

March got off to a great start here at SSG, with a few classes finishing up water quality testing, a final spring restoration planting project (pictured), and we even participated in McKenny Elementary School’s first ever STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) night. However, many know that our biggest event, Student GREEN Congress, happens in March every year, and with the spread of COVID-19 we unfortunately needed to cancel our Student GREEN Congress event for the first time in its 28-year history. Although we didn’t have an opportunity for local students to present their data at The Evergreen State College, we want to acknowledge the hundreds of student delegates who put so much time and effort into their water quality testing and presentations. I was fortunate enough to see some of these great presentations, and am constantly inspired by Thurston County youth who care so much about their environment and are ready to take action to improve watershed health. To all these students and their teachers – thank you for all of your great work. Thank you as well to all the amazing volunteers, workshop leaders, and facilitators who had signed up to help with that day. We’re excited to bring back Congress next year!

In the meantime, with local schools closed, we want to urge students to still find ways to go outside and get some fresh air. We have developed a series of watershed-based activities for students to work on – alone or with a parent/guardian – from the comfort of their homes and nearby green spaces. You can follow other students’ projects on social media using the hashtag #GREENfromhome. Keeping active and getting fresh air is very important for keeping healthy during this quarantine, both physically and emotionally. And once schools resume in late April, students will be ready to participate in our nearshore field trips, tentatively scheduled for this May!

Stay safe everyone!


Join the South Sound GREEN Team!

South Sound GREEN Watershed Educator – Applications Due August 21, 2019 at 4:30 pm

Thurston Conservation District’s South Sound GREEN Program seeks a driven, creative educator with a passion for the natural world to support local teachers and students in water quality monitoring, habitat restoration and creating community connections leading to watershed protection. The South Sound GREEN Watershed Educator will serve in a well-established, place-based environmental education program housed at Thurston Conservation District. Through water quality sampling and data analysis, the Watershed Educator will split time between the classroom and field sites, often working outdoors at local Puget Sound beaches, marinas, wetlands, creeks, lakes and other outdoor learning environments. The Watershed Educator will engage students through water quality monitoring, nearshore experiences, restoration and other service learning projects, and through the Annual Student GREEN Congress where students will present and analyze data on more than 50 monitoring sites. They will assist teachers by increasing their skills and confidence with watershed education and assisting with teacher professional development opportunities.

See full job description & application instructions here.


Climate Literacy and Monitoring in South Sound (CLAMSS)

Throughout the 2018-2019 school year, South Sound GREEN partnered with the Nisqually River Education Project to offer a series of workshops to area teachers focused on ocean acidification (OA). Teachers learned the basic chemistry behind OA, as well as some local monitoring efforts being conducted by NOAA, Pacific Shellfish Institute, Puget Sound regional tribes and more. The professional development culminated in field trips to Puget Sound beaches and marinas where students conducted their own studies to help them better understand the impacts of OA on subtidal and intertidal life.

Overall, 857 students visited Puget Sound as part of the CLAMSS program! South Sound GREEN staff coordinated with community partners to serve as station leaders including Pacific Shellfish Institute and beach naturalists from the Puget Sound Estuarium, and recruited and trained volunteer divers, biologists and community members interested in helping out. South Sound GREEN staff led a stations on water quality impacts on Puget Sound (utilizing the Enviroscape model as a tool to identify non-point source pollution impacts and ways kids can change their behavior to improve water quality), and on OA impacts to crab survival which included a quadrat study of the beach. 

Overall, SSG volunteers contributed 136.5 volunteer hours for these trips!  In addition, 82 volunteer chaperones attending with the schools contributed 323 volunteer hours for a combined 479.5 volunteer hours! Special thanks to NOAA’s B-WET Education Program for funding this program!


27th Annual Student GREEN Congress!

On Thursday, March 21st over 350 local students will convene at The Evergreen State College to discuss water quality data across South Sound! In their morning State of the Rivers Sessions they will present the data from their water quality monitoring site and compare with others monitoring in the same watershed. Together they will decide on recommendations of action to improve watershed conditions!

Google Drive Site with South Sound GREEN presentations and maps:

Google Drive Site with Nisqually River Education Project presentations and maps:

Environmental Education, Salmon, South Sound GREEN, Water Quality

Water testing in South Sound

IKPThis fall nearly 1200 students visited their local waterways to find out how healthy the water is for salmon.  With mostly sunny, dry days this fall, students fanned out across the Henderson, Deschutes, Eld and Totten Watersheds.  Overall, 57 sites were tested.  Student data showed better than optimal levels of dissolved oxygen in the Deschutes River, cold temperatures (all below 9 degrees C), and low turbidity.  Students will trek back out to their monitoring sites this February to once again collect and test the water, this time making observations on how increased rainfall might change their results.  Many thanks to the teachers and multiple parent and community volunteers who turned out to make this day a success!

Environmental Education, Nearshore, South Sound GREEN, Uncategorized, Water Quality

How Many Seashells Does She Sell on the Seashore?

Nearshore 2018 Infograph_Short

Hopefully, for the ecosystem and the beach goers, none.
With the oceans becoming more acidic it is harder for shelled marine critters to build strong outer protection and secondary shellers (like hermit crab) are having trouble finding homes! Each item on the beach, whether it’s shells, crab molts, or rocks plays an important role in the beach’s local ecosystem.
And that is the main message being shared at the seashore during Nearshore Field Trips!

This spring South Sound GREEN hosted 770 students to participate in the Nearshore program. Students ranged between 5th to 8th grade, and came from 6 local schools. The Nearshore program is a field trip that South Sound GREEN offers as a way for students to connect their freshwater monitoring experience with the marine waters of Puget Sound.

For many kids this is the first time seeing some of the different marine species up close and in person, and gives students an introduction to marine biology. “I am thankful for this experience because I got to see new animals in a beautiful place” Aeivet, 5th grader. Through this hands-on program students learn about what affects marine water quality and how their freshwater monitoring site is connected to the Puget Sound. The students get to collect plankton samples, identify the plankton under microscopes, and use a Secchi disk to measure turbidity with Pacific Shellfish Institute. They also get an overview of scuba diving and interact with marine life brought up to the surface by the divers.

Students had the opportunity to explore the subtidal zone at Zittel’s Marina, and then then intertidal zone at Tolmie State Park and Johnson Point Beach. In this nearshore habitat they identified marine life with South Sound Estuary Association’s Beach Naturalists and discovered various adaptations that help the organisms to survive in the different habitat zones. During the programs, 255 volunteer hours were spent helping students to identify over 90 different marine species.

Julia from Lydia Hawk wrote “This was one of my favorite field trips in fifth grade! And thank you for letting our class experience this!” If each person that went to beach to experience the amazing marine ecosystem (like the 770 students in the Nearshore program) collected a souvenir, there would be very little for others to enjoy and even less left for marine critter’s to build their homes.

So remember the next time you’re on a vacation and want to take that beautiful cockle shell home, Life’s a Beach. Or rather Beach = Life.