By Chris Lim
“How do oysters breathe when not in the water?”
“Can oysters move?”
“How do oysters reproduce?”
These are just a few of the questions high school students are asking in our Wild! Oysters program. The tiny Olympia oyster, the only oyster native to San Francisco Bay, is the star of this education program, part of the Living Shoreline Initiative. Students gain an appreciation for their environment by experiencing firsthand its biodiversity, natural systems, and beauty. For some, it’s a first step in a lifetime of environmental stewardship.
Wild! Oysters is a seven-visit program, including two field trips. Our visits are designed as a cohesive unit with one visit building upon the previous meeting so students gain a deeper understanding of the material. We use rigorous scientific studies to stimulate the left brain and creative art projects to stimulate the right brain. We allow students to practice their public speaking skills through role play or sharing their work after activities. We’ve even added climate change components into each visit.
Our curriculum begins with broad brush strokes and then gets more detailed. This design allows us to discuss very big ideas, such as the interconnectedness of our world’s oceans, as well as specifics like native oyster species and plankton. Then, the curriculum gets personal by delving into how Bay Area communities can assist with native oyster restoration. All students are invited to participate in oyster workdays to build oyster reef balls or monitor native oyster populations.
We believe ‘doing’ science outside of the classroom reinforces our in-class learning and makes for a more fulfilling experience. During the first field trip, students conduct a transect study at Point Pinole Regional Park in Richmond, site of our native oyster restoration. For a day, students feel what it is like to be a marine scientist. By exposing students to the many opportunities in applied science beyond high school, students may find inspiration to further an environmental career in science or restoration.
The second field trip takes students to a partner site, Pickleweed Point Oyster Company, located in Tomales Bay on the edge of one our National Marine Sanctuaries. Imagine a community garden, but for shellfish. Here the students experience what it is like to be an oyster farmer for a day.
This year, Wild! Oysters is excited to partner with three local schools: George Washington High School in San Francisco, Terra Linda High School in San Rafael, and our newest partner, Making Waves Academy in Richmond. Over 150 students will each receive over 13 hours of contact with the Wild! Oysters education team. During this time together, we hope to answer more oyster questions and provide a meaningful experience for students.