While I am talking about the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge, I truly am thinking back to the conclusion of this year’s Environmental Education Program. Yes, that pristine refuge of forest, estuary, streams and grasslands was invaded by 233 Pacific County fourth graders this May. To put all in perspective, the refuge and I will never be the same. Change can be good. This is one of those times.

I was privileged to act as the co-coordinator this year. Here I am in my second year of retirement from a 40-year teaching career and I am hired to teach. The big bonus was that I was teamed up with a young graduate in natural resources out of Humboldt State University. Here we stood: seasoned elementary teacher — who by the way has always loved to teach science — and a new graduate scientist, who by the way was an excellent teacher.

Grace DeMeo and I were then thrown into scheduling volunteers, learning the curriculum, and teaching it to the volunteers and students. We were involved with gathering materials from the refuge closet and from outdoors, training the volunteers each of the three lessons, and finally driving to the refuge and teaching each lesson to the Pacific County students from Long Beach, Ocean Park, South Bend, Raymond and Willapa Valley schools. During our culminating activity each refuge student/explorer was asked to use his or her skills of observation, inference and recording outdoors during our field trip to Tarlatt Slough on the South Bay Trail. Ah… no child left inside!

An amount of learning and enjoyment was seen during each part of this journey. A new volunteer would ask how she was doing when teaching estuary at Long Beach. A student at Ocean Park would remark that he had never been in a forest and that is was something he definitely wanted to do. Another student from Willapa Valley would give a volunteer a photo taken while she was outdoors. A volunteer would be sharing the perfect group she had during the field trip: “They were all so polite and caring. They listened and shared, it was amazing.” The blank looks became educated guesses when asked “What do you think might happen?”

Students learned to take notes while listening, draw and label illustrations. It was perfect science: 4-5 volunteers teaching small groups of four to seven students in a 15-minute rotation. Oh yes, learning occurred.

Every year is new and that is why I send this message out to you all. If you are interested in becoming involved with the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge’s Environmental Education Program, visit their website or contact info@friendsofwillaparefuge.org. I admit that I am glad for a break until next February when we will be setting school schedules, BUT I know by then I will be ready to go again.

Martha Williams is co-coordinator for environmental education at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge: www.fws.gov/refuge/willapa.

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