Coastal Connections Camp expands to Seward

Coastal Connections Camp students smiling. Cloudy skies, ocean and trees in background.

This summer, Alaska Sea Grant offered an educational camp for middle school-aged children in Southcentral Alaska focused on deepening an understanding and appreciation of the coastal environment. The Coastal Connections Camp encourages exploration and natural curiosity, while reaching an age group that is typically underserved in summer programming.

Campers discovered macroinvertebrates and other life in local streams, gathered and examined plankton under microscopes, and experimented with water properties including cohesion, adhesion, polarity and solubility. After working on skills in pattern awareness and observation, the group hiked into the rainforest to play games involving camouflage and identifying anomalies.

Students also participated in successively more challenging team-building activities that involved communication and social awareness, and discussed ways to help make sense of their emotions within their social environment. Personal resilience was cultivated using team-building activity debriefs and guided outdoor activities such as sea kayaking in Resurrection Bay and standup paddleboarding at Portage Creek.

The Coastal Connections Camp is focused on a holistic approach to kids’ learning and personal resilience that Alaska Sea Grant’s education specialist and camp program developer Leigh Lubin calls “Whole-Being Teaching.”

“The purpose of Whole-Being Teaching is to engage students in their local ecosystem and increase understanding while simultaneously giving them the skills to process emotions and thrive in social situations,” explains Lubin. “We’re using active outings, hands-on science activities, leadership initiatives, cultural history, and art to connect kids to the marine environment and their community.”

First piloted last year in Valdez, the Coastal Connections Camp was further refined this summer in Seward during two separate week-long sessions. Partners included Sarah Schuh from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area and Fiona North from the National Park Service’s Ocean Alaska Science Learning Center. Both organizations provided staff, supplies and funding for outdoor activities. The camp filled all spots within 24 hours of opening registration, allowing 23 students to attend the program.

Partners, parents, and participants agreed that the camps were a success. All participants surveyed reported gaining new useful skills. Seventy-nine percent of students reported increased self awareness, and 63% reported increased confidence. One student reportedly mentioned that they wanted to become a marine biologist after participating in the week’s activities.

Lubin plans to continue to develop partnerships and expand the program age range. She is developing new camp curricula to focus on rivers and coastal rainforests as well as oceans and glaciers. Additionally, program partners are working to provide training to informal and formal educators and foster Coastal Connection Camps around the state.

Eventually, the Whole-Being Teaching framework will be hosted on a new Alaska Sea Grant Alaska Waters educational resources web page, providing a variety of tools for educators to use to teach and improve the lives of Alaska’s youth.

For more information about the Coastal Connections Camp, or to learn more about the Whole-Being Teaching framework, contact Alaska Sea Grant education specialist Leigh Lubin.