The 411 on Ocean Shore School’s Oceans Week

More than 25 years ago, Penny Keating was a parent in the Alternative School (now Ocean Shore). The school was founded on the premise that a partnership between parents and educators allowed for an enriched, experiential education through hands-on learning, special projects, small group instruction and frequent field trips for students. Keating, a member of Pacifica’s longtime and legendary surfing family, gave the school Oceans Week.

“At that time, the Alternative School was located at Cabrillo, so we could walk to the beach,” said Sheila Gamble-Dorn, then a parent with the school and now a third grade teacher with Ocean Shore. “The whole impetus behind Oceans Week, now Oceans 411, was that kids really need to know and learn about the ocean that they live next to. When our school moved to Sharp Park, we brought Oceans Week with us.”

Parents Gamble-Dorn and Virginia Szczepaniak (now a fourth/fifth grade teacher at Ocean Shore) took on the project 20 years back and created the booklet that is still followed. Today Gamble-Dorn is the project’s supervisor. This year Oceans 411 takes place May 13 through May 21. The work behind the “week” takes a year of planning. Oceans Week is a Kent award-winning program.

“We have seven rotating topics,” Gamble-Dorn explained. “Last year was the wave zone, which includes the study of tidepools. The year prior was wetlands. The other topics are: deep ocean; polar seas; coral reefs; ancient seas, and this year’s topic, marine mammals.”

Each class, second through sixth grade, has a particular marine mammal focus. For instance Gamble-Dorn’s third graders will present information on beaked whales, sperm whales, beluga whales and the mysterious narwhal, an Arctic whale known as the unicorn of the sea, because of the long spiral tusk which protrudes from its head. The fourth and fifth graders in Patty McNally’s class will do their research on baleen whales. (They are also following the migration of grey whales online.) Fran Quartini’s second graders are assigned elephant seals and walruses. There are also student studies on polar bears, orcas and dolphins, sea lions and seals, and one class is researching the human impact on marine mammals.

Kindergartners and first graders do their own marine mammal project rotations which discuss the same topics. The seventh and eighth graders, three to a classroom, serve as instructors on the respective topics, opening the hour with a PowerPoint presentation. The seventh and eighth graders are also running a “blubber” experiment in the Science Lab with a parent who is a teacher at UC Berkeley. The experiment will allow for a small scale sampling of how the marine mammals of the Arctic and Antarctic survive freezing temperatures because of their thick body fat, blubber.

Gamble-Dorn said the dad of one of her student is going to open the week’s assembly. His name is Mick Menigoz, and he is a local charter boat captain. He is also one of the real life heroes behind the book “The Eye of the Whale” (A Rescue Story) by author/illustrator Jennifer O’Connell. Menigoz helped rescue a humpback whale that had become entangled in yards of crab-trap lines.

All Oceans 411 students go on field trips to the beach, where there are four educational rotations. One is on sonar. Another rotation provides information on what marine mammals eat. In a third rotation, students will use rope to measure different-sized whales, and then mark with flags parts of the anatomy such as the eye or the blowhole. The fourth rotation will have students picking up and sorting trash at the beach, including nurdles (teeny plastic particles). They will then discuss why marine mammals, a sea lion for instance, might eat that trash.

Currently the hallways of Ocean Shore are alive with student creations. There are three dimensional marine mammals like the Longman’s beaked whale. At the time of this writing Special Day Class teacher Matt Hayden, with assistance, was building a 56-foot fin whale which students, teachers and parents will be able to walk through to learn about whale anatomy. There are posters and paintings and sculptures.

“I very much believe that kids remember with hands on learning,” Gamble-Dorn said. “For instance, once you go to the beach and learn what trash can do to marine mammals, then every time you go to the beach after that you’ll think about those marine mammals and hopefully pick up that trash.”

Read the original post: The Mercury News

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