Sea Week: A Juneau success story

Students in Erin Mitchell’s third-grade Auke Bay Elementary School class visit Auke Recreation Area for Sea Week last week. (Peggy Cowan | Courtesy photo)

Students in Erin Mitchell’s third-grade Auke Bay Elementary School class visit Auke Recreation Area for Sea Week last week. (Peggy Cowan | Courtesy photo)

Mention school and science, or now STEM, and many Juneauites will tell you about their Sea Week experiences. Just as there are now community efforts to bring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education to students in Juneau schools, Sea Week started from parental enthusiasm for introducing their students to local marine and wetland environments through school field trips. Thanks to those parents and dedicated teachers, Sea Week is a Juneau institution that has spread to sea weeks or months.

During the 1969-70 school year, Beth and Dan Bishop were the presidents of the Auke Bay Elementary School PTA; they developed the program. Janet Bradley, an Auke Bay parent, led the first beach field trip at a “minus tide.” Mary Lou King led a field trip to the Mendenhall wetlands for students to learn about birds and the value of the estuary. Sea Week had begun! From these modest beginnings, Sea Week has grown to include every elementary school, and classes K-6 can participate. In 1969 many Juneau students had never explored a beach at a minus tide but now, every student in Juneau has the opportunity to learn science at the beach.

According to Susan Baxter, retired teacher and former Juneau Sea Week coordinator, “Mary Lou King developed the underlying structure of the base curriculum, the rotating low tide beach use, the use of professional agencies to support classroom and field experiences, which brought the marine environment to the forefront for every child. Sea Week raised Juneau consciousness to the magnificence and uniqueness of our home.”

Sea Week is a Juneau school and community success story.

Sea Week has had impact on the lives of the children it has touched. Michael Kohan, Seafood Technical Director with Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, is an example of the lasting effects that Sea Week has had on the life of Juneau students. She remembers Sea Week as pivotal to her career choices.

“When talking about how I became a woman in seafood and science,” she said, “I refer to the unique opportunity [I had] growing up in Southeast Alaska and being immersed in the hands-on education opportunities like Sea Week. The value of the Sea Week program is not just an education on the names of intertidal species, but it is an experience. An experience that links kids to asking questions, learning, exploring and eventually, like myself, following that intrigue to a path in science.”

Kohan says Sea Week connects Alaskans to their seafood. “When talking about the connection people in Alaska have to Alaska seafood, I reference Sea Week and the unique experience elementary school kids have when growing up in Southeast Alaska!”

Sea Week uses the natural curiosity of students to engage them in academics. Juneau teachers combine Sea Week field trips to the beach, wetlands and glacier with classroom lessons and presentations by agencies to build concepts and STEM skills. Sea Week lessons have been interdisciplinary from the start with the inclusion of writing, reading, math, arts and culture to expand beyond science lessons. For example, at the beach, students observe the diversity of organisms in different tidal zone habitats, establish study plots, make drawings and record numbers of different types of organisms. Back in the classroom, they create a model or drawing that compares the diversity of the different tidal zones, write about what they learned and research more about local animals and their habitats in the library.

Sea Week was adopted in 1980 by the Alaska Sea Grant College program, involving teachers from Juneau and around the state in preparing instructional materials to enhance the learning in Sea Week experiences in communities throughout Alaska. Sea Week is still improving; Alaska Sea Grant provided funds to the Juneau School District to provide a summer teacher workshop and kits of materials to accompany lessons. These place-based lessons, written by Juneau and other Alaskan teachers, can be accessed on the Alaska Sea Grant website at www.alaskaseagrant.org/teachers. These Sea Week STEM lessons align with the Next Generation Science Standards that are the foundation of the recently adopted Juneau Science Curriculum located at http://www.juneauschools.org/.

The Juneau School District and Juneau teachers have led Sea Week for the last 48 years. In addition to funding transportation to the beach, JSD has always provided Sea Week experiences with the support of local partners. Kindergarteners view aquaria and handle living creatures at the NOAA Lab at Lena Point. National Park Service and Forest Service rangers provide classroom lessons to first graders on their work and natural areas. Second-grade students visit DIPAC hatchery and aquariums. Discovery Southeast explores the salmon lifecycle from the edge of a melting glacier to the ocean with third-graders and takes fourth-graders to the Mendenhall Wetland Dike trail to explore ecosystems. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum guides fifth-graders in an exploration to examine the interface between people and the changing Juneau waterfront. Sixth-graders return to NOAA Lab at Lena Point to learn about STEM careers and local research.

Teachers lead Sea Week with their students with help from parents, grandparents and local STEM professionals. Organizations and individuals can continue the tradition of community involvement in Sea Week in Juneau. You can volunteer in the classroom of your child or grandchild or you can contact the STEM Coalition at the email below. If you’re interested in being on a volunteer list for or in receiving emails from the STEM Coalition, please contact juneaustemcoalition@gmail.com.


• Peggy Cowan is a STEM Coalition Volunteer. STEM Corner is a monthly column about Science Technology Engineering and Math in Juneau, written by a rotating group of Juneau STEM Coalition members.


Students in Erin Mitchell’s third-grade Auke Bay Elementary School class explore sea life in a tide pool during Sea Week last week. (Peggy Cowan | Courtesy photo)

Students in Erin Mitchell’s third-grade Auke Bay Elementary School class explore sea life in a tide pool during Sea Week last week. (Peggy Cowan | Courtesy photo)

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