Guest post by Kelly Steffen
The Environmental Science Center’s Salmon Heroes program uses field-based education experiences to encourage positive connections to natural settings, increase awareness and understanding of other factors to salmon survival, and to improve stewardship behaviors to keep our watershed and salmon habitat healthy. For over 12 years, Salmon Heroes has been leading their 3-part, 5-hour experience for 4th – 12th grade students in Western Washington State and reached over 2,900 students during the 2018 field season.
During Salmon Heroes, students are investigating the questions “Is this a healthy watershed for salmon survival?” and “How do human activities impact the watershed?”. Before the field study, students learn about what salmon need from their stream, estuary, and ocean habitats as well as the three C's (cold, clean, and clear) they'll be testing for during their field study. Water quality testing at our multiple field study sites is an integral part of the program. While out in the field, teachers and students are trained to collect water from local waterways where salmon spawn to test for pH, phosphates, nitrates, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, and temperature. This experience develops skills for conducting further water quality tests on school campus or community sites. All the water data collected is uploaded to the EarthEcho Water Challenge database so students and teachers are able to see the results from their work and how that compares to data from all over the world.
Back in the classroom, students analyze the water quality data they collected in the field and compare it to previous year’s data, and to data collected from different local creeks. They are also tasked with brainstorming solutions to many common pollutants in the watershed. At the end of our experience, all students write a pledge they can take with their families to help conserve wild salmon populations and also take home a backpack flyer we’ve translated into both English and Spanish. This can be shared with their families to continue conservation discussions at home.
Because salmon are an iconic species of the Pacific Northwest, Salmon Heroes easily ties into science curriculum units as well as native history and culture, literature, and economy. We often see teachers use the Salmon Heroes program as a jumping off point to do activities with students such as improving schoolyard habitat, organizing a neighborhood cleanup project, removing invasive species at a local park, organizing student presentations to the community, or writing letters to public officials.
Editor’s Note: Kelly Steffen is the Salmon Heroes Coordinator for the Environmental Science Center, an EarthEcho Water Challenge partner. To learn more, visit www.envsciencecenter.org.