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West Sound Academy kids get their hands dirty

POULSBO — Budding biologists have found a home in West Sound Academy’s watershed studies class, a course that crosses curriculum boundaries and teaches students to appreciate the outdoors.

On a recent field trip indicative of what the class does, the students visited Bainbridge Island and got their hands dirty by pulling in seine nets to find sea creatures that were identified, measured and counted.

“With the guidance of teachers and local resource experts, students develop the knowledge and skills necessary to collect, interpret, and present data on watersheds,” said Elizabeth Dourley, a parent volunteer with the school. “Students use their knowledge and skills to work with teaching staff and facilitators of the nature-mapping program to develop a community education outreach program.”

The watershed studies class serves a dual purpose. It ties book learning to the real world and teaches students their actions can have an impact on the world around them.

The class also serves as sixth-graders’ academic introduction to the academy.

West Sound Academy teacher Signe Sterner, who teaches the watershed studies class, thinks classroom instruction is a great tool, but if it isn’t given context the students come away empty-handed.

“My main goal for the class is for students to get outside and interact with nature,” Sterner said. “I’m a strong believer that kids don’t have enough opportunities to do that.”

Every week, students go out into the field, whether on a trip to the forest to study native plants or to the Kingston Marina to study marine wildlife.

Sterner also thinks the sixth-grade students are at just the right age to take an interest in improving the community.

Some of the community service projects the class has worked on include working on the youth gardens in Poulsbo’s Raab Park and beach cleanup.

The one-semester long watershed studies class combines science, art, humanities and community service, Sterner said. It also takes advantage of the school’s expertise by having other teachers step in to assist with lessons.

“It’s really an exploration of all these (subjects),” she said. “It’s also an introduction to some of the faculty the students are going to meet in their later years.”

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