Students across the Edmonds School District will have the opportunity in April to learn about the ocean and local marine life as part of activities coinciding with Earth Day.
The district’s Parent Leaders group is working to provide a one-hour presentation from Annie Crawley, an Edmonds author, underwater photographer and filmmaker and ocean advocate, who also runs a local youth scuba diving team.
Crawley has previously spoken at various schools about the ocean’s importance and says her personal missions are “to be an inspiration to others” and to “help people connect with the ocean.” She said the multimedia “Our Ocean and You” presentation is full of photos and videos that she’s personally taken “woven together with stories and featuring our underwater backyard.”
The presentation will highlight sea creatures living in and around the Edmonds Underwater Park marine preserve and sanctuary and conclude by challenging students to become ocean stewards and use their own voices to support the ocean. In addition, each school’s library will receive a copy of Crawley’s recent book Planet Ocean.
The program is meant to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning, reading and general awareness of the ocean environment in the Pacific Northwest. Its content will be tailored for the academic level of those students attending across different district schools.
“Our lives, the health of people is connected to the health of our ocean,” Crawley said. “Because I’m an underwater explorer, I have a plethora of new images and videos that I’m always creating and new work that I’m sharing my stories with students” and many others. This includes a new short video about the local underwater park that Crawley just released online.
She said that over the years, her work has morphed into a place where she now feels, “as if I’m a voice for the ocean,” She wants to encourage other people to speak up too because the ocean “now faces so many wicked problems,” including pollution, climate change and overfishing. “People have negatively impacted our ocean and we need to create solutions to solving the wicked problems we’ve created,” she said.
Crawley hopes her presentation will create or reinforce a connection between her audiences and the ocean and inspire change. “I really want to create a paradigm shift in how we view the ocean and the best way that I can do this is through sharing amazing animals and stories from the sea that people didn’t know existed and making it accessible” Crawley said.
The school district’s Parent Leaders group has helped raise funds through a mix of both local parent organizations and donors to cover the presentation’s $275 cost per school. To date, they have enough money to pay for 29 or the district’s 32 school locations.
Monica Wheaton, the Parent Leaders vice president of events, said the group itself was able to pay for the presentation at four school locations with money it had previously raised at its last annual Edmonds Comedy Night event. She said some of the school-based parent groups had been able to fund the presentation at their own schools and one such group even covered the cost for another school facing challenges with financing it. Wheaton was also happy to report her group recently received a $5,000 donation from Steve’s Plumbing in Lynnwood to help bring the program to schools.
The Parent Leaders group, which is part of the district’s PTA Council, helps to coordinate educational resources and events with each individual school’s local parental organization.
“Our real goal is not only to provide that opportunity for equity between schools but also to be a connection and a resource and a network for all of the different parent leaders,” said the group’s Co-President Valerie Rosman. She noted that many of the schools typically hold similar events year-to-year, but there can be a “pretty high turnover in parent leader groups and PTAs.” As a result, those boards need help with continuity in coordinating events that have previously been held and/or assistance in establishing new ones.
Wheaton said the ocean presentation was originally planned to be virtual on Zoom, but those plans are changing now that students have started returning to classrooms. Organizers have been been working with Crawley on ways to transform some presentations into a series of videos that would be available to teachers and personalized to the school, rather hosting a one-hour assembly with all students watching at the same time. “They can actually just use the materials as they have the time and the space for it during the month of April,” Wheaton said.
She noted that since teachers are adjusting to provide a blend of in-person, online and hybrid class learning experiences, she didn’t want to make their jobs more complicated by adding one more thing for them to suddenly figure out.
While Wheaton said she hoped all of the district’s students would have a chance to see the presentation during April, she also understood if there are some delays. “Our goal is to get one ‘assembly’ in every single one of our 32 schools before the end of this (school) year,” she said.
The presentation also features some activities that youth can choose to engage in afterward at home, such as ways to share their experiences and personal stories of what the ocean means to them. There is also a challenge to abstain from single-use plastic items, such as straws, for 30 days.
The Parent Leaders Group has also been talking with school district officials about ways to potentially incorporate some of Crawley’s additional educational resources into the science curriculum. “Not only is it important as far as the environmental aspect but it’s also STEM,” Wheaton said. “She’s written many, many books and done videos and things so its literacy and then also there’s the activism as well.”
Rosman said it also fits with the district’s science curriculum goal of having a local “community career tie-in” component presented because it, “keys off of…an educational goal that children are more likely to pursue a career if they can see themselves doing that career.” She said she felt that there’s something in each grade’s science curriculum that could potentially be linked back to the ocean and “some work that our local ocean stewards are doing in this area and if we do that then there’s like this obvious continuity that’s created across our science education in our district that really communicates with our local environment.”
According to Wheaton, “It’s just like the tip of the iceberg letting people be aware that this exists.” The hope is to build further excitement for Crawley’s materials so they could potentially be included as part of the district’s educational curriculum in the future.
“Giving the ocean to the kids, I mean I think that’s what we really want to do is to have them realize how beautiful and important their world is that they live in and it’s phenomenal to think about how many kids haven’t actually been to the ocean in the Edmonds School District,” Wheaton said.
Rosman added about Crawley’s presentation, “She’s super passionate and just has so many ideas and so much to share I just can’t wait to get her in front of some kids and just see that synergy fly, it’s going to be awesome.”
— By Nathan Blackwell