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Dillingham elementary schoolers explore watersheds with help of Alaska Sea Grant

Avery Lill/ KDLG

Dillingham Elementary School is in the final year of a three year grant that has provided the means for students to dedicate the month of May to studying Alaska’s oceans.

Kanakanak beach is crowded this week as Dillingham’s elementary schoolers head to the ocean to learn first-hand about the area’s wildlife and watersheds. The school has dedicated this month to learning about sea life both in the classroom and out.

In 2015 Alaska Sea Grant awarded Dillingham Elementary School $10,000 to facilitate three years of education about ocean environments. The funding for the grant is provided by Icicle Seafoods. Now in Dillingham’s final year of the program, the school has $8000 remaining. Alaska Sea Grant and Icicle Seafood will decide in coming months whether to allocate the money elsewhere or extend Dillingham’s deadline for using the funds.

The money has gone toward video conference classes with the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward, classroom supplies, and professional development for the teachers. Another significant portion of the funds have provided transportation to the Kanakanak beach for Dillingham’s more than 200 students.

“Right now all the students are having a grand old time in the creek exploring and observing,” says first grade teacher Kristen Starr. “We encourage students to learn through exploration and observations. Not only do we teach students about the fish, we teach them about the tides and the cultural perspective, hunting, the belugas and things like that.”

Seven-year-old Katie Timmerman’s rain boots are caked with mud as she wades of out of the creek that runs into the bay. She holds up a murky jar of water with a bug-like creature swimming inside.

“We’re looking for isopods,” she gushes. “It’s one of the sea lice. I got one already in here.”

Net in hand, she heads down the beach to explore and collect more wildlife specimens with her classmates.

This week the whole elementary school visited the beach in shifts. There, teachers and community volunteers helped them learn about the area’s ecology. For the rest of the month, students are learning about Alaska’s seas and watersheds in their classrooms.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.