Elementary school kids dig nature on Sea Day, literally

How many times can you tell your kid to go play in the ocean and mean it? At least once a year for U.S. Forest Service and school staff.

On May 9, teachers, parents and Forest Service employees taught 82 kindergarten through third grade students about tidepool sea life, tree identification, animal skulls and fur, digging clams and more at Shoemaker Bay during low tide.

"Today, you guys are going to help me get some clams and we're going to send them out to have them tested (for toxins). Who's gone clam digging before?" said Kim Wickman, IGAP technician with the Wrangell Cooperative Association, as she instructed a group of kids. Lots of hands shot up in response. "Nice! We've got two types of clams we're going to get today."

She went on to talk about smooth-shelled butter clams and ridged-shelled cockles. "See the ridges? Ruffles have ridges. Who eats ridged potato chips? When you think of cockles, think of potato chips."

Kids took up their digging tools and dispersed along the water's edge, looking for dime-sized holes, an indication that a clam is buried down a few inches.

Parent volunteer DaNika Smalley, her children and a couple other kids intently dug in one such spot only to find a clam that shuffled off this mortal coil. "It's dead," she said, and they set about to find another hole.

Teacher Jenn Davies brought her third grade class to participate, washing ashore plenty of memories for her.

"I grew up in Wrangell," she said. "We had Sea Day when I was (in school). It's a tradition. I remember it being a lot of fun. It used to be at City Park. It was a little more loose. There was a big fire, lots of food and a lot of parents, and you went exploring."

These days, students rotate through six learning stations. High school teacher Heather Howe taught kids about finding sea life in tidepools; Wickman taught about clams and shellfish; Forest Service staffers Corree Delabrue and Jennifer Kardiak taught nature journaling; while coworkers Brook McHolland and Tory Houser taught tree identification and animal skulls and fur identification, respectively, with help from Kayleigh McCarthy; and Kevin Kocarek and Betsy Wirt, also with the Forest Service, taught about aquatic insects.

Delabrue became involved in Sea Day in 2011 when kindergarten teacher Vicki Buness-Taylor had already been organizing the event for years.

"When Vicki retired, the school had trouble finding someone with time to organize it and there was a couple years where they didn't hold a Sea Day," she said. Delabrue took over organizing in 2019 as part of her Forest Service outreach duties, except for a pandemic break in 2020 and 2021.

According to Delabrue, the Wrangell Ranger District took over organizing Sea Day to keep kids exploring and learning about the outdoors.

"It helps students understand the resources of our temperate rainforest habitat, even if the field trip does not occur on Forest Service lands," she said. "Shoemaker Park is an ideal field trip for the students because it is close and provides a wide variety of habitats to explore - not just the sea, but also a freshwater creek and forested areas."

In the Shoemaker shelter, Houser taught kids about different animal skulls, pointing out the difference in teeth between moose and bear skulls.

"I want you guys to feel your teeth. Feel the ones in the back. What kind of animal are we," she said. "Are we a carnivore?"

"Omnivore," came the shouted replies.

"Good job! We eat everything," she said, though a few kids took exception with vegetables.


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