Wahluke Junior High students learn about ecosystems

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BEVERLY — More than 200 Wahluke Junior High School kids got a chance to get out of the classroom and experience what they have been learning about salmon habitat and their impact on the local ecosystem on a field trip to Wanapum Dam Friday.

“The kids have been raising salmon in class — learning about their life cycle — wrapping it around climate change and how to take care of our ecosystems — something we all tend not to do anymore,” Mike Bosko, science teacher at Wahluke Junior High, said. “It’s been a real eye-opening experience. Most of the kids really didn’t know it was a bad thing to throw garbage on the ground or what happens when oil is spilled on the ground — didn’t know it would filter into our water system — into our rivers and end up in the ocean. That’s what this field trip is all about”

Bosko, who is a former independent software engineer and fisheries biologist of some 20-plus years, started the ecosystem awareness program when he was hired to teach science at the junior high school four years ago.

“It’s (the program) been a great gig,” he said. “I wanted it to be a learning experience first and then be fun for the students as well. The entire experience has been getting better and better each year — the kids are learning a ton — it’s been awesome.”

Bosko hasn’t pulled this “great gig” off all by himself. It’s been successful do in large part to a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and his partnership with the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, whom he used to work with, who had members of the team at the dam as well.

“The grant helps us operate the busses to transport the kids and to hire substitute teachers to help out at the dam,” Bosko said. “Part of the grant specifies we teach the kids where the water drop that lands in Mattawa gets to the Columbia River and then winds up in the ocean.”

The grant monies issued in the amount of $59,900, is by way of the NOAA Pacific Northwest Bay Watershed Education and Training Program or more commonly referred to as the B-WET program, which funds locally relevant, authentic experiential learning for K-12 kids.

The Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group wrote the grant and are the program administrator of the funding supplied by NOAA.

Lower Yakima Basin Project Manager Merritt Mitchell Wajeeh, heads up the efforts of the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring wild salmonid populations and their habitats through restoration, protection, education and community involvement around the region.

She was on site a Wanapum Dam as well.

“The kids all said they had a good time and we’re very pleased we offered an educational experience outside the classroom,” Mitchell Wajeeh said. “The fieldtrip allows them to interact with the environment and discover how crucial salmon are to it — no salmon, no forest in the Pacific Northwest. The entire salmon life cycle — especially the spawning process, provides a huge nutrient base for the forests.”

Aside from teaching science at the junior high, Bosko also orchestrates a summer science club that he incorporates a select group of his students into.

“I choose like 10 of these kids to work alongside of professionals to learn about this kind of thing (what they learned in the classroom during the year) but more in depth,” he said. “I take them out and do research together with scientists I work with from around the country — so it’s a really cool opportunity — no kids around here get that type of experience and I’m really excited about that.”

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