The Oysterville Science Academy (OSA) is in the process of selecting its third cohort for this summer. And if I were a kid, a third or fourth grader, I’d be getting my boots and raincoat ready for action. Why? Because as Mya Jo “MJ” Cunningham, one of last summer’s cohort, says, “You have to be completely and totally prepared to get dirty. At one point we got so dirty that they wouldn’t let us back into the school house — we had to leave our boots on the porch and then we skidded around on the floor in our socks.”
I mean, really, does that sound like fun or what?
But if you think OSA is all fun and games, here’s the big secret — kids are learning about science fundamentals: observation, prediction, investigation, measurement, classification and communication. The OSA curriculum is based on materials provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to improve students’ achievement and literacy in science and math. Instructors are topnotch scientists and educators from our area, and the classroom? — just step outside the door of the school house and prepare to get your hands, and boots, dirty.
After I stopped laughing about the muddy boots incident, Mya continued, “We went to different places and explored, we observed things in the mud and started making inferences and deciding about the environment we were studying on that particular day.” Their guide for the Oysterville Sea Farms tide flats was our own Dr. Kim Patten, professor and Washington State University extension officer.
Mya continued, “You’d be running across the mud and lose your shoes. One guy jumped in and out and both his shoes got stuck. That was crazy because everybody was picking up these random creatures off the ground, some of them made me squeamish. Some of them got named after Pokémon creatures. Actually in a couple places that looked like tide pools there was mud at the bottom and a couple dead fish. Then we had a funeral for the crabs and I was like, ‘Really people!’”
“There was something different every day and people would come and talk to us, a lot of them were scientists.” Yes, indeed. The lineup last year was an impressive array of experts. Dr. Sue Raymond, artist/owner of the Bay Gallery, talked to the students on the topic of “Communicating Through Hieroglyphs.”
As Mya said, “We went to the gallery and were trying to draw our names with hieroglyphs. It’s funny because they’re actually pretty complicated and hard to draw. I think my two favorites days were the geologist [Dr. Clayton Nichols, geological engineer] — we did rocks specimens. And another day we had brain puzzles we were supposed to figure out, with toothpicks.”
Tom Downer, owner of Jack’s Country Store, spoke about the importance of classification and how they use barcodes to organize the store’s inventory. Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, shared this piece of advice, “Everything you know is worthless if you can’t communicate.” So they had a special kind of show and tell in which each student had “Two Minutes to Impress” the rest of the class with their finds. They also kept journals and, as Mya says, “binders that actually ended up like scrapbooks with pictures that we got to make our own captions for.”
There was a field trip to Leadbetter Point State Park guided by science educator Dani Massin. She took the students on an identification scavenger hunt exploring the tracks and traces left on the beach. Steve Romero of Critical Path Software, and Steve Vincent of Columbia Analytic Services and Laboratory Science Institute, were also on hand as instructors and mentors.
And the start of the whole academic adventure was an spirited orientation by Susan Holway who was born and raised in Oysterville. Mya said “There were one or two people who came to talk to us about how they remember going to that same school house! — so it was both science and history.”
Students attend the three weeks of Oysterville Science Academy absolutely free of charge. They get expert teaching, a lunch, and so many intangible enrichments. Mya made a good friend during her three weeks last summer, someone she’d seen around school but didn’t really know. “Now we do a lot of cool of stuff together — we are working on a mosaic. We’re really good friends and it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for OSA.”
OSA it was shaped and conceived of by community booster and idea-woman-extraordinaire Diane Buttrell (who also founded the Oysterville School House Lecture Series). It’s another feather in Diane’s cap. As Mya’s mom and Snap co-owner Katie Cunningham says, “Diane continues to give to the growing minds of our community! It is so wonderful to watch someone so clearly passionate about their purpose.”
But one never gets things done by working alone on the Peninsula. OSA is supported by donations and is a joint venture with the Boys and Girls Club. Ocean Beach School’s Superintendent Jenny Risner has committed to providing school lunches. And dedicated parents and volunteers keep the wheels on the bus. (If you’d like to get involved to donate time or financial support, give Diane a call at 360-214-1267.)
The more I find out about this project, the more impressed I am — again — with how consistently the extraordinary people of our community create positive experiences for us. Our kids are precious, and any creative support we give them ensures a flowering in the future, for everyone. Critical thinking and problem solving, skills enhanced by this kind of extracurricular activity, last a lifetime, especially in our ever-changing world. And having fun isn’t bad either!
I can barely imagine the even-more-brilliant individual Mya will become by the time she completes her education — through college and beyond. I can only hope she’ll keep a pair of boots ready to go on her porch.