Kayla McLaughlin

Kayla McLaughlin

Skills center courses usher teens into science community (with photo gallery)

PORT ANGELES — True to the course name, these students discovered much about resources: the natural and the personal kind.

In the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center’s natural resources program this school year, a variety of teenagers went into the field, onto the beach and along the creeks and tidepools.

They learned — sometimes the hard way — to work with young children, marine scientists and government bureaucrats.

In “Classroom to Community: A Celebration of Students and Partnerships,” a public program last week at The Landing mall conference room, 11 of the high school students presented their natural resources coursework.

Their service-learning projects ranged from planning rain gardens in Port Angeles to teaching youngsters about the 2,408-square-mile Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

From student to teacher

Hannah McNabb, 18, started her presentation by admitting that when she heard about the Olympic Coast marine sanctuary, and the possibility of doing an internship with the agency, she had no idea what it was.

“But since it was about the ocean, I knew it had to be good,” she recalled.

McNabb plunged in with full teenage energy and got the internship. She learned to measure ocean conditions; she worked in the sanctuary office five days a week; she went out to teach youngsters from Port Angeles to Neah Bay and Clallam Bay about the kaleidoscope of animals living on the Olympic shoreline.

“I just got back from Slip Point [at Clallam Bay], where I was a ‘tidepool expert,’” she said, using four fingers to make midair quotation marks. She and a band of fifth-graders spent the day among the pools, pointing out animals the kids had never known existed so nearby.

Meantime, Hunter Heckenlaible, another natural resources student who worked with the Feiro Marine Life Center on City Pier, used a 20-foot seining net to measure species diversity at Hollywood Beach.

The 11th-grader discovered a richness beyond his expectation, collecting 150 organisms on one of the better days this spring.

There were pipefish, tubesnouts, sculpen, pricklebacks and gunnels — “which are pretty much eels,” he said.

Rain garden

Graduating seniors Michael Groves and Marissa Wilson worked together on planning a rain garden in hopes of showing the community how such gardens keep stormwater from running off and polluting local streams and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

In the process, they worked with local government officials, and, Groves said, they learned about a couple of things to use long after high school: persistence and flexibility.

Groves and Wilson had planned a rain garden at Jefferson Elementary School but couldn’t get approval in time for their project deadline.

Fortunately, Trish and Jim Fedderly invited them to plant a garden on their property a few blocks away.

The two teens hope to complete that — and then spread the rain-garden idea around to local businesses.

Kayla McLaughlin, another who graduated last week from Port Angeles High School, worked with four community partners through the natural resources program: the Olympic Coast sanctuary, the Feiro, Streamkeepers of Clallam County and Olympic National Park.

‘Wonderful experience’

Her speech was about gratitude: “It’s just been a wonderful experience,” said Kayla, 17.

With Streamkeepers, Kayla gained an understanding of the role streams play in a community’s health. Through her work with the marine sanctuary, she learned how fast a beach can change in a short period. She also spent time with the staff at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, where she heard stories that were, in her words, “mind-blowing.”

The natural resources program brought Kayla into the science community — a community of teachers, scholars and volunteers who made her feel welcome.

“I would like to thank all of the people who accepted me,” she said. “This has been a wonderful part of my life.”

Kayla is headed for the University of Washington later this summer. And as she is not only a scientist, but also a singer — hoping to study both biology and opera — she has won scholarships from a variety of local groups, including the Sons of Norway, the Peninsula Singers and the Port Angeles Garden Club.

Also, “the UW gave me $16,000 in grants,” she said, “which is amazing.”

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Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5062, or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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