Saltwater Classroom aims to educate, inspire youth to save oceans

By Gabriel Blodgett | Jul 16, 2019
Photo by: Reese Bucholz Saltwater Classroom founder and Executive Director Lexi Doudera, center, works with students during a workshop in Camden July 8-12.

Camden — A year ago, Lexi Doudera launched Saltwater Classroom, a week-long program focusing on marine science, conservation and collaboration, with a pilot program in her native Camden. Last week the program returned for another session with local 9- to 12-year-old children, based at the Lyman Morse marina.

The idea for Saltwater Classroom originated more than two years ago when Doudera was in Chile on an exchange program from Northeastern University. While working with fifth-graders learning about rural coastal sustainability, she said, she gained a greater appreciation for the fact that the same basic issues -- acidification, over-fishing, habitat loss and plastic pollution -- are facing oceans around the world.

When she returned to college she decided to act on the idea, making Saltwater Classroom her senior capstone project. Soon after graduating with degrees in marine biology and environmental studies, she officially launched it as a nonprofit organization.

By placing problems facing particular communities in a global context, Doudera hopes that students will be able to “see the scale of the issues not necessarily as an obstacle,” but as an opportunity for collective action. She said the recognition that there are other children equally interested in protecting the oceans will help build community and make the work of conservation seem less daunting.

In May, Doudera raised $10,000 through a kickstarter campaign to help fund the development of a collaborative app that will allow children who have participated in Saltwater Classroom to interact and engage with other students from around the world and build on momentum generated by the workshops. Students will receive badges for tasks like coastal cleanups and making intercultural connections with other students.

Doudera said she also plans to have people from professions not directly linked to marine science and conservation, such as chefs and artists, engage with users on the app to show the wide-ranging impact the ocean has on people’s lives and careers.

Over the last year, Saltwater Classroom has done workshops locally at Camden-Rockport Middle School and Sweet Tree Arts, along with a program for fifth- and sixth-graders at an international school in Sayulita, Mexico.

The organization is made up of a growing network of staff and educators, including Education Coordinator Olivia Dawson, Doudera’s classmate at Northeastern, who has been with the program for multiple sessions.

As opposed to more intensive science-based camps, Doudera said Saltwater Classroom emphasizes creativity and hands-on experiments that allow students to interact with the environment as part of a multi-disciplinary approach.

The curriculum, which Doudera said can be adjusted to meet a school’s particular needs, is designed to comply with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Literacy Framework. The week generally begins with broad conversation about the planet and the importance of oceans and narrows in scope to address local coastal environments.

Throughout the week there are art projects, intertidal zone explorations, seaweed pressings, and anatomy lessons on marine life, as well as water-quality testing where the results are sent to the Rozalia Project, another nonprofit focused on protecting the ocean. The week concludes with discussion about today’s oceans where students brainstorm ideas for action and are left with a greater awareness of the issues facing the ocean while feeling empowered to continue learning and working toward better ocean stewardship.

Doudera said she chose to focus on working with 9- to 12-year-olds because of their enthusiasm for the subject, and pointed to environmental education studies showing that age range as the most receptive to the curriculum, based on the children’s ability to understand basic science, as well as the impact of the threats to the environment.

Although she plans to continue summer programs, she views school workshops as having the most impact by reaching all students, not only those who are interested enough in the subject to sign up for a class in the summer.

Doudera, who lives in Portland, where she is leading another workshop this week, plans to continue growing Saltwater Classroom through fundraising, workshops and app development and has had discussions with a professor at Northeastern regarding opportunities for current students to work as assistant teachers to help spread the curriculum more widely.

For more information, visit saltwaterclassroom.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jul 17, 2019 13:54

Wonderful endeavor! Kudos for Doudera!  Self saving retainer for ships for effluence would solve bigger

problems in the long run.... With ports having sufficient waste receptacles handy for the ships. Just an idea.



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