Lincoln County Schools
4:57 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Lincoln County Schools Bring in the Ocean

How Lincoln County Schools may be the best in the world at integrating the ocean into the classroom.
Lincoln County teachers looking for aquatic life

The aim of the Lincoln County School District is ambitious: To become the best district in the world for integrating the ocean into the lives of its students. This school year students, teachers and administrators—and their partners in the community—are doing more than ever to meet that goal. The sea lions on the Newport bayfront (sounds of sea lions barking) welcome a group of Lincoln County teachers. The teachers are down on their bellies, using car ice scrapers under the docks.The results go under portable microscopes. It's an exercise that they will later share with their students. Teachers Dale Wood and Stephanie Zandoli got lucky.

“Oh, look at that! Beautiful. I saw something cool floating that looked living already, maybe a little jellyfish. Don't let it get away! That's seaweed and we got some mussels. What's this? You got sushi....”

The Lincoln County School District is a 55-mile strip of central coast stretching from north of Lincoln City to south of Yachats. It's the size of the state of Rhode Island. It hugs the sea. Every grade level and every classroom tries to incorporate the sea. The vision belong to Superintendent Tom Rinearson. He's aiming to integrate the ocean into students' academic lives better than any other district:

“We weren't satisfied with just Oregon or the country. We're on the edge of the Pacific Ocean here. It might as well be the world.”

Rinearson wanted to collaborate closely with the impressive resources already in the county, especially the Oregon Coast Aquarium. There's also the Hatfield Marine Science Center, NOAA, Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the local fishing fleet. The he started thinking about the Oregon common core educational standards coming up and how his teachers could best engage students in meeting those standards:

“Kids...really actually all of us, need to learn in a context. We have to be able to relate to things. And I'm sitting here and I'm looking out at the ocean and I'm thinking, well there's a pretty big context.”

Rinearson says most learning in life is informal, so kids are getting into tidepools and into kayaks. It starts early:

“I'm thinking of a kindergartner or a first grader or something. They're counting pencils or something out of a box. Why don't they count seashells? And then there's this kind of natural conversation that starts to happen around what is this thing? It can be as simple as that.”

Teachers are using the economics of the fishing industry to teach math. Classes are analyzing data from underseas seismographs. And writing poems:

“Waves crash, feelings smash, time flies, the breeze sighs. People wonder, the ocean ponders. People detain. The ocean remains. The ocean always remains.”

That's Newport High Junior Gray Bouchat. She brings the ocean into her journalism and English classes:

“Basically it's just a giant inspiration.”

Eddyville Charter School students

There are lessons on the effects of ocean acidification on oysters, sustainable seafood, fossil hunting, renewable energy, scuba diving.Sean Bedell's sixth grade class from Eddyville Charter School brings a pipe to use for coring near Yaquina Bay in Toledo. Students Alisson Spikes and Tucker Smith help Bedell pound the corer into the sand:

“It's five feet, and four inches in diameter and we're gonna put it in the ground and see if there's any sign of the 1700 tsunami or any other ones and if there's tsunami sand underground here.” “Ladder! Ladder! Let's get it started....pound, pound, pound...”

Their tentative conclusion on whether they have evidence of a tsunami? Quite possibly. Later they'll confirm it at an Oregon State University lab. In Waldport, Melissa Steinman teaches a high school elective on eco-tourism:

“We're creating student who are more marketable to our local business owners and they're coming out of this class with the skills to be able to step into and add value to our local businesses in, specifcally, south Lincoln County.”

For teachers, there's ongoing training inspiring them to bring the ocean into the classroom and their classes to the ocean. Melissa Steinman assembled a remote operating vehicle that she slipped into a tank at the Marine Science Center and turned on (gurgling, then electric sound). She will go back and teach her students to assemble the devices and inspire them. But first she was headed to other workshops. The Coast Aquarium's Jenni Remillard just gathered a variety of edible seaweed from the coast:

“We've got feather boa here. You can eat all of it. My favorite part is this. They call them sea olives. There's a lot of little fringy leaves. You can put those in salads. You can eat the little olives as a snack.”

And Tom Rinearson is working to bring another kind of inspiration to teachers. Along with aquarium staff, he's developing a unique teaching certificate in ocean literacy with a stipend....to go along with all the free seaweed they can eat.