Last week, I wrote about the importance of local participation in the management of our coastal resources. I described how citizens could become informed and involved by keeping up with what is happening in their community and attending meetings in their towns.

But, I left out a critical component — our students. What better way to increase the public’s knowledge of coastal resources than by starting to educate our children at a young age? Students growing up along the coast will then have a basic knowledge of how to be good stewards of their landscape.

As I believe I mentioned in one of the previous weeks, I grew up in Missouri, so I certainly was not learning about tide pools and salt marshes in the classroom. But, of course kids in Maine would learn these things in school, right?

You may be surprised. A few years ago, I got involved in an aquaculture project with the Brunswick High School students to grow soft-shell clams in Maquoit Bay. This sparked a conversation with Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin about how to incorporate more marine science education into the Brunswick school curriculum.

Something that she said struck me. When she was working at the REAL school, they took a group of students to Florida to rescue sea turtles. One of the students was hot and plunged into the water. He immediately came out and said, “Yuck. It’s salty.” He lived in Brunswick, but had never tasted salt water. There was definitely a need for more coastal education in the schools.

That spring, I worked with Pender to organize a teacher workshop with more than a dozen organizations involved in marine science education for teachers K-12 in the Brunswick School District. Teachers involved in already existing projects like the high school clam project as well as Brunswick Junior High School’s Casco Bay Unit gave presentations to the group.

Bowdoin graciously let us use their Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island for the afternoon. Teachers were able tour the marine labs there and brainstorm new ideas for their classrooms. The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership provided funding for the day and that led to a second event this summer for teachers from around Casco Bay.


There are certainly plenty of resources out there and there is plenty of enthusiasm from teachers. So, why isn’t everyone doing this already?

There are logistical difficulties, to start — getting kids on a school bus to a field trip during the school day is tricky to schedule with weather and tides, costs money, and takes up much of their school day. Then, there are curricular challenges — where to fit this into the requirements teachers have to fulfill. In the younger grades, the focus is entirely on math and reading, so if you can’t link it to those subjects there often isn’t time. And once students are old enough to have science in their schedule, there are myriad standards to meet and topics to cover.

And, of course, there’s the cost. School budgets don’t often have enough money to cover multiple trips to a field site or purchase things like water quality equipment.

Fortunately, there are some great solutions out there for many of these challenges.

To start, some local organizations like the Gulf of Maine Research Institute offer programs that cover the cost of transportation. They have their own bus that takes middle school students down to their Portland LabVenture facility to learn about the Gulf of Maine. Others offer free courses at their facilities like Bigelow Lab’s BLOOM program for high school students.

And some organizations offer free online curriculum like the Friends of Casco Bay’s Climate Change curriculum for grades 4-6 ( or Sea Grant’s Signs of the Seasons (SOS) program where you can track changes in different species throughout the year ( Specialists at the Maine Math and Science Alliance ( can help teachers align these lessons with their specific curriculum.


For needs beyond free programs and curriculum, there are a number of grant opportunities. For example, the Brunswick High School clam project and Junior High School Casco Bay Unit have been funded in part by the Brunswick Community Education Foundation and accepts grant applications every November ( Maine Sea Grant also provided a Development Grant for the high school project and has grants in October and April each year. And the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership has a Community Grant program that awards funding for education projects each February (

In the end, it’s all about educating and inspiring local students so that they will appreciate our waterfront and want to help it thrive.

As she was pulling a green crab out of one her experimental traps last week, Brunswick High School student Phoebe Churney said, “It’s kind of my dream to be a marine biologist. And I hope to go to school and work here in Maine.” You can see photos of Phoebe and her classmates hauling out the nets and pots they used to grow clams this fall at Their smiling faces and muddy boots are a testament to the value of this kind of education.

Susan Olcott lives in Brunswick, with her husband and 7-year old twin girls. She earned her M.S. in zoology studying the lobster fishery in New England. She then designed education programs for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and taught biology to military personnel in Sardinia, Italy before returning to Maine to work on ocean planning for The Ocean Conservancy. She is now a freelance writer and currently writes about coastal issues for the Harpswell Anchor and The Working Waterfront and about local foods for the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust and Zest Magazine. In addition, she helps local schools pursue educational grants and writes children’s book reviews for the Horn Book’s family reading blog as well as for her own blog:

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