Did you know that there are kids living in Brunswick who have never been to the ocean?

Assistant Superintendent Pender Makin recently told me a story about an 18-year-old student on an expedition with Brunswick’s REAL school to rescue sea turtles in Florida, who plunged into the water and immediately spit it out saying, “Yuck. It’s salty!”

I had to laugh since I grew up in Missouri and salt water was not exactly a part of my childhood either. But I grew up 1,400 miles from the ocean, and in Brunswick, there is no part of town that is more than 15 miles or so from the coast (by my best guestimate). This student, who attends the alternative REAL school that strives to bring success to students grades 3-12 who have failed to thrive in other school settings, had to go all the way to Florida to taste salt water for the first time.

Much of the culture, economy, and history of Brunswick are based upon the coastal parts of our town, and yet, it isn’t a familiar place to everyone living here. It seems that the best place to start is with students – to introduce them at a young age to the place where they live so that they can connect to it and learn from it.

In order to explore this potential, teachers and representatives from a dozen organizations and institutions gathered last week for a half-day workshop. It was an amazing and inspiring day where participants gave up much of a rarely glorious day on Mother’s Day weekend to brainstorm small ways in which to begin the process of incorporating more coastal content into their curriculum. Bowdoin College generously made the Coastal Studies Center on Orr’s Island available as a meeting space. This included a peek into the marine lab where participants could see an array of local critters and think about how their students could connect to marine research happening here, a relationship that Bowdoin is keen to pursue.

In addition, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership provided funding to feed the hungry brains of those attending, and wants to be involved in the next steps with Brunswick, as well as other schools in Casco Bay.

Organizations came from as far as the Hurricane Island Foundation in Penobscot Bay and Downeast Institute in Beals, off Jonesport, to present to the group. They brought curriculum already in use by schools along the coast, as well as other resources they are willing to share with teachers. The rest of the stellar line-up included the Island Institute, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Bigelow Lab, Gulf of Maine Marine Education Association, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, Maine’s First Ship, and Brunswick Community Education Foundation, which funded the marine science project at the high school.

In addition, teachers involved in two marine science projects already occurring in the district gave presentations – the high school project to seed a site on Maquoit Bay with soft shell clams, and the junior high Casco Bay Studies unit. Teachers came from across the grade levels, K-12, including those focused on reading and art interested in the interdisciplinary potential of coastal curriculum, and from Brunswick’s REAL School. The ideas churned right through lunch with think tank groups centered on aquaculture, citizen science and professional development, each finding their own cluster of chairs or tables in the sun.

The enthusiasm was palpable and the innumerable resources available impressive. But, it isn’t simple to incorporate new ideas that span K-12 in a district with over 800 students. Having said that, the goal of the workshop was to be a first step. If even one teacher left with a practical idea they might try in the fall, that’s a start.
And, I’m pretty sure there was more than just one idea. That’s not to mention all the seeds of ideas that were planted, new connections made, and resources identified.
Who knows what this might look like several years down the road? Now, with the help of many amazing community partners, we will keep it going and see where it leads.

After all, we are truly intertidal creatures in Midcoast Maine, living at the intersection of land and water.