Coastal Rivers expands partnership with Lincoln Academy to offer watershed-focused education 

Coastal Rivers expands partnership with Lincoln Academy to offer watershed-focused education 

By Sarah Gladu and Tahlia Mullen

Ten years into their fruitful partnership, educators at Coastal Rivers and Lincoln Academy continue to deliver fresh and engaging curriculum to the school’s alternative education programs. A newly expanded focus on watershed science is providing students in the Ed Lab and IDEAL programs with hands-on, outdoor learning experiences designed to help them reach education goals outside the traditional classroom setting.

IDEAL and Ed Lab seek to provide positive learning environments for students for whom the traditional high school setting is not a good fit. By developing programs with IDEAL and Ed Lab specifically in mind, Coastal River’s Director of Education and Community Science, Sarah Gladu, aims to connect with students on a personal level, offer engaging learning opportunities, and provide real-world experiences.

In recent years, with Sarah as their guide, students have made weekly visits to the Nature Center at Coastal Rivers Salt Bay Farm and other preserves, participating in a wide variety of service-learning and science programs.

This past year, the partnership between Lincoln Academy and Coastal Rivers took a new direction when Sarah’s husband, Tim Gladu, joined the Ed Lab teaching staff. Before long, together they had developed a self-reinforcing sequence of lessons centered around watershed science and the Damariscotta estuary watershed.

The husband-wife team worked together to integrate concepts from classroom science curriculum with Coastal Rivers field experiences through hands-on projects. The Director of the Ed Lab program, Jody Matta, agreed that this fit well with her project-based learning focus. The resulting plan also contributed to teacher Janna Civitollo’s service-learning and science education goals for the IDEAL program.

The program began with a series of field-trips to different locations along the Damariscotta River. As students learned about the natural history of the local region, Sarah introduced them to broad watershed concepts and asked them to interpret specific aspects of the natural world. To culminate the program, students completed a water-quality monitoring project, applying skills they had learned throughout the program to collect data with real-world value.

During the course of the school year, students visited Witch Island in South Bristol to study island ecology, took a trip on the River Tripper to learn about oyster farms, and learned about Wabanaki culture and history while building a wigwam and visiting local shell middens. Students also had an opportunity to study birds and dissect owl pellets, create interpretive signage about local plants and animals, and visit the Salt Bay Sanitary District to learn about wastewater treatment, among other classes focused around ecology and natural history.

Student collecting water sample

A Lincoln Academy student carefully collects a stream sample for analysis in Coastal Rivers’ Water Quality lab.

These lessons all helped lay the groundwork for the final program component: a water monitoring project at a watershed scale. For this undertaking, students took weekly water samples from streams around Great Salt Bay, then used Coastal Rivers’ Water Quality Lab to conduct bacterial analysis on the samples and identify levels of bacterial contamination in streams. The students learned to work in the lab and in the field using aseptic techniques.

At the projects’ end, students presented their findings to the Code Enforcement Officers of Newcastle and Nobleboro. According to the students’ presentation, the data show that water quality is good. There is some bacterial contamination in a few spots that could likely be controlled with better vegetative buffers. Sarah elaborates, “Over all, those who live on or near Great Salt Bay are doing a good job of managing human waste and pet waste and protecting water quality, though there is some additional work that can be done to make improvements.”

Stan Waltz, Code Enforcement Officer in Nobleboro, wrote, “I was thrilled to be at the presentation. I thought the students did a fantastic job describing their work… Before this, I had a lot of apprehension about alternative education at the high school level. I now see the value it adds to some lives and wholly support the program. The students did a great job in their presentation and should feel excited about sharing their work in public.”

Sarah hopes students leave the program with an improved appreciation for the importance of good water quality. Even more fundamentally, educators on either side of the Coastal Rivers and Lincoln Academy partnership relish the opportunity to empower students and watch them make educational strides they didn’t know were possible.

“You could work in a lab!” Sarah remarked to one student. That student’s response: “Yeah–I could!”