It’s no surprise that educational outreach is an important part of OWCN activities, given our affiliation with UC Davis. OWCN management staff recently visited four K-12 classrooms in Davis, sharing the impact of oil on wildlife and the environment, the role of OWCN in responding to a spill, and perhaps an obligatory cute otter photo.
Responder specialist, Scott Buhl, gave a presentation at Davis Senior High School as part of an Earth Day speaker series in teacher Sherri Sandberg’s Chemistry in the Community course. The series was organized by two student clubs, RISE (Recycling is Simply Elementary) and the Environment Club. Despite the presentation being optional and during the lunch hour, more than 30 students attended.
Putting himself in the student mindset, Scott described the challenges of maintaining a constant state of readiness for a spill, saying, “It’s like preparing for a test every day. We’re always trying to improve.”
Scott fielded several questions after the presentation, including how often spills happen, how long responders stay at a spill site, and what students could do to get involved.
“The classroom was filled with environmentally conscious and inquisitive students who spent their lunch break eager to learn about oiled wildlife response,” said Scott. “Our visit left me motivated and impressed about the power of the next generation.”
Kyra Mills, deputy director of field operations, and Jennie Hawkins, field operations specialist, visited three 7th grade science classes at Da Vinci Junior High in Davis. During the presentation, students learned how sea otters rely on their fur, rather than blubber, to stay warm in cold ocean waters, and how oil compromises that ability. Students had an opportunity to touch a sea otter pelt to understand its fur density (from 250,000 to 1 million hairs per square inch!) first hand.
Kyra explained that a key responsibility of the field operations team during a spill is to observe an animal’s behavior to determine if it has been affected. Bringing that lesson to life, students were formed into four-to-five member “field ops” teams. Each team received a pair of binoculars and a clipboard with a survey log, and then headed outside to a nearby lawn to “observe” a variety of animal displays and identify whether they were oiled or not.
“We just finished a project on ecology and endangered species, and our next project is on natural resources, so this presentation and exercise fits in perfectly,” said Da Vinci science teacher Sean Glantz.
What’s next for OWCN K-12 outreach? We’ve got a full schedule, including a spill drill exercise with an undergraduate One Health club at Cal Poly-SLO, a booth at Bird Day LA, State Scientist Day at the State Capitol, a visit to an elementary school and a Take our Sons and Daughters to Work Day event in Sacramento. Plans for new educational activities and teacher resources are also in the works. Stay tuned on the blog for updates, and in the meantime, learn more about how we reach out to students, the public and scientific communities.