Environmental Science Center creates future conservationists; Seahurst Park facility has been serving students since 2000
By Lindsay Peyton
A building perched on the beach in Burien’s Seahurst Park is a hotbed of environmental learning, helping to produce young ambassadors of the natural world throughout Seattle.
The Environmental Science Center has been a leader in science education and conservation efforts in South King County since it was established in 2000.
The center’s program manager Joanna Stodden recently accepted the “Educator of the Year” honor at Discover Burien's 2018 Best of Burien Awards.
Earlier in the month, the nonprofit held its annual, major fundraiser, the Seaside Soirée, and raised $53,000.
Community engagement manager Kharli Rose said the amount will enable the center to serve 2,600 students.
“We’d still love the public’s help to reach $60,000, or 3,000 students,” she said. “We can also put that toward enriching our programs and expanding our participants.”
Rose said the goal is to educate area residents about the local watershed and actions they can take to keep the Puget Sound healthy.
“Our programs are tailored to spark curiosity,” she said. “Curiosity fuels us and knowledge guides us. The more we know about something, the more likely we are to protect it.”
Executive director Tara Luckie explained that the Environmental Science Center grew out of a group of concerned Burien residents. “They saw that there was a huge lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and environmental programs in South King County,” she said.
The group became dedicated volunteers, operating as mobile teachers. “They would keep kits in their cars and go to schools,” Luckie said.
Eventually, they formed a non-profit offering high quality, hands-on environmental education, both in classrooms and out in nature, from local beaches to forests.
“It’s really expanded a lot,” Luckie said. “We work with every age range, and everything we do is very hands-on.”
She explained that the Environmental Science Center has expanded the number of programs it offers over the years. Two of the nonprofit’s most popular programs are the Beach Heroes and Salmon Heroes.
Beach Heroes introduces students to local seaside habitats and the creatures that live there. After a classroom visit, naturalists lead children on field studies exploring the beach. Participating students commit to becoming environmental stewards and serving as beach heroes.
The Salmon Heroes program follows a similar format, staring in the classroom and then leading to a field study. “Naturalists go into the classrooms and teach about the life cycle of salmon,” Luckie said.
Students then test water quality in local watersheds and graph the data. “We connect it all to the fact that salmon are one of the best indicators of the health of the Puget Sound,” Luckie said.
Salmon Heroes also take a pledge to protect the fish and the waterways. Luckie said the programs are offered in five school districts throughout South King County, including Highline Public Schools.
The Environmental Science Center also offers Toddler Times for parents and their little ones, as well as summer and afterschool programs, including “New Futures” for low-income communities.
In addition, the nonprofit hosts adult and teacher workshops, as well as to mentorship opportunities and internships like its Junior Naturalist program. The center also focuses on various restoration projects.
Currently, the center is working with the City of Burien to provide a two-day stormwater festival for all sixth graders in Highline. “They’ll learn steps they can take to make sure Puget Sound stays healthy and clean,” Luckie said.
Each year, the Environmental Science Center invites families to join in a variety of outdoor programs, including lectures, environmental walks and custom field trips.
Luckie said that the center serves more than 11,000 individuals each year, getting them to turn off their electronic devices in favor of time outdoors.
“People are spending a lot of time on their cell phones and watching television,” Luckie said. “They’re not connecting to nature the way they used to. We have to make a conscious effort. They have to be introduced to nature and get excited about it.”
The nonprofit has six staff members and a crew of 20 naturalists. “It’s all about connecting people to nature,” Luckie said. “Our main motto is let nature teach. If we can just get people outside, nature is a great teacher.”
She added that children who get excited about nature will also become teachers. ‘They are oftentimes our best advocates,” she said. “Our programs are very effective. When a student does a field study, they never forget that moment.”
Luckie said that positive change begins by investing in the community and making sure that everyone is aware of ways they can impact the environment.
“We are all connected,” she said. “We all share this community and this environment. We have an obligation to make sure that we are protecting it and making sure the next generation has the same things we had.”
Rose is also a naturalist for the center. “People care about nature in the own ways,” she said. “We’re just giving them the tools to become stewards of it.”
She said her role is to guide an exploration. “Students will soak in the messages, and then they get to become teachers and naturalists,” she said. “That’s the fantastic cycle we get to be a part of.”
For more information about the Environmental Science Center, visit EnvScienceCenter.org.