Environmental Science Center photo
ESC naturalist Sheri Barr guides students in investigating the internal anatomy of a salmon.

Water heroes produced through Burien’s Environmental Science Center program

This fall, the Environmental Science Center (ESC) at Seahurst Park is making a splash in south King County schools thanks to support from The Boeing Company.

Through a new grant, ESC will engage more than 1,500 students in understanding the dynamics of their local watershed, deepening their connection to the environment and promoting positive stewardship behaviors that will aid in salmon recovery.

The highlight of the program titled, “Water Heroes for Puget Sound,” is an intensive hands-on science investigation at the Normandy Park Cove where hundreds of chum and coho salmon are returning to spawn.

“Boeing’s support of the Water Heroes program aligns with the company’s strategy to provide hands-on experiences which promote environmental stewardship and train the next generation of leaders,” said Liz Warman, director of Global Corporate Citizenship for the Northwest region.

Last year, less than 42 percent of the 10th graders in the Highline School District passed their state standardized exams in science. These students, like many others in south King County, struggle with a critical need for science enrichment opportunities that would allow them to boost their academic performance and prepare them for careers in the 21st century.

ESC is working with school districts to close this achievement gap by offering its programs for free, including bus transportation to the sites, for all schools in which more than 50 percent of their students qualify for free and reduced price meals. In the Highline and Tukwila School districts, nearly all of the schools that ESC serves qualify for these fee waivers.

Highline School District Superintendent, Susan Enfield stated, “The “Water Heroes for Puget Sound” initiative is a wonderful STEM opportunity for our students. It supports our goal of offering students a variety of formal and informal experiences that will inspire them to pursue STEM-related education. This unique initiative helps our young people learn the importance of managing our local watersheds, and helps us provide access to STEM opportunities for all students in our community.”

During their field investigation at the Normandy Park Cove, students (grades 4-10) are engaged in a wide variety of activities including investigating internal anatomy by dissecting a real salmon, studying external anatomy through scientific illustration, exploring the importance of native plants during a nature hike along Miller Creek, testing water quality of the streams, and learning the trials and tribulations of the salmon journey through a large motor skills game.

One fourth grade student from Marvista Elementary noted, “I enjoyed touching salmon body parts. You don’t get to do that every day!”

Throughout the program, which includes two classroom sessions, students are encouraged to contemplate how humans impact salmon and adopt at least three behaviors to improve salmon habitat. Students who take the Water Heroes pledge to protect their local watershed receive a special badge and their class is featured on ESC’s website to honor their commitment.

The quality of the Green/Duwamish watershed in south King County is rated “below standard” by the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

As the most populated urban center in Washington state, the cause is clearly attributed to human impacts from urban development, which has caused not only increased contamination of run-off water flowing through the watershed, but also unnaturally fast and destructive stream flows, according to ESC staffers.

The goal of the Water Heroes program is to cultivate a new generation of environmental stewards who are motivated to take action to protect and conserve the natural resources in their community.

Additionally, this program will increase academic performance by fostering exciting ways to engage students in science and encourage STEM careers, ESC officials noted.

ESC was founded in 2000 to promote academic achievement for students in south King County through hands-on environmental science experiences. Each year, ESC engages thousands of students through outdoor science investigations at the Normandy Park Cove and Seahurst Beach as well as through after-school clubs at 17 locations in Burien, White Center, Tukwila, and SeaTac.

Last year, the center delivered 41,660 contact hours of programming to students and their families in south King County at a variety of sites including its new facility at Seahurst Park.

More information is available at www.EnvScienceCenter.org.

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