New educational pilot program takes off in Blaine

Published on Wed, Jun 6, 2012 by Angela Hamilton

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Blaine teacher Carol Gallaher's fifth grade class takes a tour of the Drayton Harbor oyster beds aboard the historic Plover ferry on Tuesday, June 5. Photo by Richard Sturgill

The Puget Sound Restoration Fund and the Drayton Harbor Oyster Farm have joined forces to pilot a curriculum that got Blaine 5th graders out in the field and learning about the importance of water pollution prevention and healthy shellfish harvesting practices.

Field trips took place on June 5 and 6, as well as a pre-fieldtrip class session that was instructed by Julie Hirsch, microbiologist and owner of Hirsch Consulting Services. Hirsch has long been involved with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund in Drayton Harbor.

The trips were funded by the Whatcom Community Foundation. Hirsch said the foundation was most interested in educating young people about water quality and protecting shellfish harvest for the future.

When original funding was pulled, the foundation picked up aspects of the proposed project, including monitoring water quality in the area and educational efforts. Funding also provided opportunities for high school students to design experiments and monitor water quality for their senior projects.

“I saw this as a prime opportunity to get kids out in the field during the oyster harvest and [give] them more of a hands-on educational effort,” Hirsch said.

All six Blaine fifth grade classes alternated with lab demonstrations and displays at the Blaine Harbor meeting room and 12 total trips on the Plover ferry to the oyster farm barge to learn about the harvest. Hirsch instructed the labs and Geoff Menzies, owner of the oyster farm, put on demonstrations for the students.

On the ride there and back, the students had a chance to learn about the history of the Plover. The Drayton Harbor Maritime Heritage Society agreed to transport the students. Founder Richard Sturgill said it is a great way to safely and legally educate students about the vessel.

Drayton Harbor Maritime has been involved in educational efforts before, including last year’s Educational Cruise on the Plover during Water Week in which children learned to identify various organisms living in local waters.

Garden of the Salish Sea is a partnership between different local organizations that aims to educate others about their own environments.

 “It made the most sense to pilot it in Blaine because it is their watershed, and what they do will affect shellfish from the community oyster farm,” Hirsch said.

After establishing a curriculum in Blaine, there are efforts to expand it county-wide.

The curriculum is viewable on, so additional teachers and homeschool groups can consider it for their own activities.

“Teachers could structure other types of marine resource fieldtrips around this type of model,” Hirsch said.

The last part of the project was the Salish Sea Pledge, which encourage students to talk with their parents about goals and potential plans of continuing awareness of sustainable watershed practices. Visit to see both the pledge and the whole project online.