Graduation ceremonies are common occurrences during the spring, with high schools and colleges competing for venues to recognize the achievements of their students.
The unconventional timing is only one aspect that made the Nov. 17 graduation event unique, as is the relatively young age of the participants, ranging between age 8 and 12. The unique event was the annual seaStars & Beyond graduation ceremony by Harbor WildWatch, celebrating the progress of its junior naturalists at a ceremony held at Harbor Covenant Church.
The program features four levels — seaStars, sunStars, Junior Naturalists and Teen Mentors — which focus on environmental and marine science for children age 8 to 17, said program coordinator Rachel Easton.
The kids get a huge variety of workshops. As the kids progress up the three different levels it gets more and more intricate.
Rachel Easton, seaStars & Beyond program coordinator for Harbor WildWatch
“The kids get a huge variety of workshops,” Easton said. “As the kids progress up the three different levels, it gets more and more intricate.”
The 11-month program features different workshops and experiences that involves not only the student, but also the parents or guardians in the learning process. Learning is hands-on, with workshops, field trips, volunteering and even a service project required before students can graduate up to the next level.
“We’re unique in that we get parents involved,” Easton said. “Parents are learning alongside their kids.”
The parental involvement provides an opportunity for parents to watch their children learn and grow while learning about marine science, the environment and stewardship practices, while also learning about these subjects themselves.
Science education is always a wonderful thing. They really enjoy a chance to volunteer and give back ... It’s a really good opportunity for them. When you teach something you really learn it.
Jennifer Beard, development associate for Harbor WildWatch
Watching her son, Josh, gain confidence as he moves through the program has been something Jennifer Beard has enjoyed, not only as a parent but also as the development associate for Harbor WildWatch.
“Science education is always a wonderful thing,” she said. “They really enjoy a chance to volunteer and give back ... It’s a really good opportunity for them. When you teach something you really learn it.”
Students in the seaStars & Beyond program volunteer at Harbor WildWatch programs offered during the summer, helping teach at events ranging from touch tanks to beach walks. The goal of the program is to increase scientific literacy and share knowledge of topics that include marine biology, the natural history of Puget Sound, pollution and good stewardship practices.
Another important aspect of the program is found in Harbor WildWatch’s motto: “Learn. Have fun.”
My favorite thing about the program is it gives kids confidence. We try to make sure everything we do we’re learning and having fun.
“My favorite thing about the program is it gives kids confidence,” Easton said. “We try to make sure everything we do we’re learning and having fun.”
At the graduation program, each student received a certificate and the yearly pin and the opportunity to move forward to the next level in the program.
“We’ve got a pretty good level of retention from level to level,” Easton said. “We want them to build a sense of ownership for the program.”
Registration is now open for the 2017 seaStars & Beyond. For more information, visit harborwildwatch.org, call 253-514-0187 or stop by the office in Skansie House, located at 3207 Harborview Drive in downtown Gig Harbor.