WALDOBORO — “The best day of school ever,” was how one of Nicki Taylor’s sixth-grade students at Waldoboro’s Miller School described the six hours of field work they did on April 12 on the salt marshes and mudflats of the Medomak River estuary. Accompanied by coastal naturalists and shellfishermen, the students got the firsthand experience and information they needed to develop their Quest about the estuary.
A Quest is a clue-to-clue exploration that tells the story of a particular place, such as the story of clamming along the Medomak. For the past two years, students in schools in the Muscongus Bay region have researched, writtten, mapped and published original Quests about the coastal watershed as part of Questing to Learn, a place-based education program offered to area schools by the Quebec-Labrador Foundation’s Marine Program in Waldoboro through funding provided by NOAA New England’s B-WET program and private foundations.
The week before this “best day of school,” these same sixth-graders spent the morning in Waldoboro village. They learned about water quality, what degrades it and how it affects the shellfish industry from Sarah Gladu, water quality educator, and John Fancy, Waldoboro Utility District. Then, before lunch, April and Abden Simmons opened up their Jefferson Street buying station to show the 16 children how local dealers work with harvesters to buy clams and move them to market.
The river field work on April 12 focused on two key spots several miles beyond the village, on the eastern shore of the Medomak River estuary. The first was Mid-Coast Audubon’s Guy VanDuyn Refuge, a 30-acre woodland and tidal marsh preserve in Waldoboro. The second was the mudflat off Jones’ Neck, a few miles farther down the peninsula, near a property protected by the National Audubon Society.
The VanDuyn Refuge was the perfect place to learn about the estuary’s salt marshes.
Meandering down the wooded trail to the shore, the students spotted a bald eagle, turkey vultures, a woodpecker and golden-crowned kinglets with the help of Sue Schubel, president of Mid-Coast Audubon Society. Once at the marsh, the class used pitchforks to turn up the peat to see the layers of grasses. Some walked in the stream and discovered ribbed mussels, horseshoe crab exoskeletons and mud snails.
“I never knew there could be so much life in such a muddy place,” one boy said as the students huddled around Schubel asking questions and sharing the animals and plants they were discovering. One of the parent chaperones showed the students a stickleback he caught in a pool. Interest in their next stop began to build as they observed a few clammers digging farther out.
At Jones’ Neck, they met up with Glen Melvin and Abden Simmons. Students spent more than two hours with these Waldoboro shellfishermen, trying out digging techniques and learning about clam behavior and harvesting rules. The children returned to their classroom dirty, tired and full of new information and inspiration for their Quest. Reflecting on the experience, QLF’s Place-Based Education Coordinator Anne Stires said, “It was one of my best days, too. We were all so proud of these students, of how involved they were in the day, in the place, the people and what they were learning. I am just so impressed with this community and school. The clam fishery is critical to this region and because of everyone’s effort, I think that these kids really get that now in a way they never could inside their classroom or off the Internet.”
Over the next couple of weeks, Taylor’s sixth-grade class will complete its Quest and Quest map connecting the areas they visited to tell the story of clamming in the estuary. When they finish their project, the students and their teacher plan to cook and eat clams to celebrate their achievement with everyone who helped them along the way. Their final Quest will be made available to the public along with the 20 or so others that students from South Bristol to Union have created over the past two years at http://www.muscogusbay.org/%20questing.php.
More information about the program can be found at the website, or by contacting Anne Stires at 832-8109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.