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  • Writer's pictureHannah Newell

Member Spotlight: Garden of the Salish Sea Curriculum

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

With a team of just three, Garden of the Salish Sea Curriculum (GSSC), a program of the Pacific Shellfish Institute, has been working with Ferndale, Lynden, Bellingham and Blaine school districts since 2012 to empower stewardship to support a thriving Salish Sea and healthy oceans globally that can feed our communities. Working with youth and teachers across the K-12 grade bands, they dig deep into the science and data behind the importance of shellfish on our ocean ecosystem and their importance as an economic and cultural resource.They also support career connected learning opportunities with Bellingham Technical College and Drayton Harbor Oyster Farm, ensuring the future of shellfish research and health.

Their curriculum started as a response to global indicators of poor water quality, increased water pollution and climate change. Julie Hirsch, the Executive Director of GSSC, started delivering these lessons where her son was going to school at Beach Elementary when she noticed the lack of content addressing these concerning issues. The program continued to expand as the need increased for addressing these issues in the classroom. Julie created a unique curriculum in partnership with her seasonal staff that not only addresses the science behind shellfish, but “connects students and their families directly to nature in their own backyards, providing them with a perspective on their own neighborhood they may not have noticed before.” They further this perspective by applying the local context to a global awareness of shellfish.

With her background in Microbiology, she was able to pair the scientific data with a

connection to nature, making shellfish relatable to youth and their families regardless of how often they visited the ocean shore or even consumed shellfish. An adaptable curriculum allows them to serve students in a way that can address real and active concerns. Julie noted that at first, their curriculum really focused on just sharing the knowledge about the role that shellfish play in keeping the Salish Sea healthy and why they’re an important resource to our community. Now, as the climate continues to shift, so will the way that we interact with our environments. Julie says that “one challenge is figuring out, as a community, how we can respond to these changes.” Their curriculum adapted to include learning objectives about the impacts of climate change on shellfish and how the individual and community can support shifting the tides to healthier oceans and intertidal zones.

As they continue to grow as a small but mighty team, GSSC is working to “provide education and tools to teachers, students and their families for positive stewardship through bridging the communications and information between those measuring environmental responses in real-time and those taking action.”

As a way to encourage action at the individual level, they empower students to lead their families and communities in practicing watershed healthy and climate friendly habits through committing to the Salish Sea Community Challenge.

Looking towards the future, GSSC hopes to further engage teachers across Washington State and beyond, in learning more about the science behind shellfish so they can continue having meaningful conversations in the classroom. They will also be focusing on serving students with Individual Education Plans and students with physical disabilities to provide connections with nature that support their development, health and wellbeing.

If you’d like to learn more about Garden of the Salish Sea Curriculum or how to get their program at your school, please visit or contact Julie Hirsch.

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