Thunder Mountain High School received a five-year banner on Wednesday marking its participation in the National Oceanography and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Guardian School Program, the first school in Alaska to reach that milestone.
The conservation program is managed by NOAA’s office of National Marine Sanctuaries and is in schools throughout the country. Schools submit an application at the beginning of the school year about what they plan to do and follow up with a report at the end of the year.
It’s a big enough milestone that program leadership came to Kristen Wells marine biology classroom at Thunder Mountain to present the banner and related accouterments as the class looked on. Kim Raum-Suryan, a marine mammal specialist with NOAA who coordinates the Ocean Guardian School Program in Alaska, Anne Marie Eich, assistant regional administrator of NOAA’s Protected Resources Division, and Michelle Trifari, an Alaska Sea Grant Fellow, did the honors.
Raum-Suryan said Wells was due a lot of credit because she brought the idea to her students and has seen it through.
“She is ‘the champion,’ which is the term we use,” said Raum-Suryan. “It wouldn’t happen without her.”
Five years of effort — Thunder Mountain is beginning its sixth year as part of the program — also has tangible results for the environment. “They have diverted thousands of pounds of waste from the landfill,” said Raum-Suryan.
Wells’ biology students formed an Ocean Guardian School Club, which expanded through the rest of the school. The list of specific projects they’ve overseen over the years include things like beach and community cleanups, and working with other schools.
The club has worked with Sayeik: Gastineau Community School, which just received its four-year banner. While it started the program the same year as Thunder Mountain, it took a one-year hiatus with COVID-19. Thunder Mountain has also worked with Auke Bay Elementary, with assemblies and waste audits. Auke Bay just received its one-year banner.
The most significant effort is the school recycling program. “We have recycling in every spare space, and curbside,” said Wells. “It was all going in the dumpster before.”
“I think it’s a lot of people making little differences that make the big difference,” said Wells.
Raum-Suryan noted that the group has gone before the Juneau Board of Education to push for a districtwide recycling program.
Credit is also due to Raum-Suryan, who helped get the program established in Alaska to begin with. She had just moved here when she saw a video made by a 12-year-old boy called “Plastic is Forever” which mentioned the program.
“I contacted the director of the Ocean Guardian School Program and asked if it was something we could do in Alaska,” Raum-Suryan said. She took it to her supervisor, who liked the idea, and they approached Juneau educators.
Seven schools now participate statewide, three of them in Juneau. A school in Ketchikan is beginning its second year. Anchorage, which already had one school involved with the program, has two more starting this year.
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