By Andrea Swayne
As part of the Dana Point Festival of Whale’s ongoing efforts to increase student involvement, this year area elementary school children were mentored by high school students for a lesson in the effects of plastic pollution on the ocean and sea life and a hands-on project to carry that message to the festival.
Dana Hills High School science teacher Randy Hudson and his marine ecology students hosted a group of second- through fifth-graders from John S. Malcom Elementary on Feb. 23 to help with the creation of a sculptural representation of a whale skeleton using single-use plastic bottles.
Before the high school seniors and elementary school kids teamed up to build the sculpture, the younger students gathered in Hudson’s classroom for a lesson on whale biology and marine ecology.
“I learned that many animals in the ocean eat the plastic that ends up breaking down to smaller pieces and it’s unhealthy, not just for the animals but for us too, when we eat seafood,” said fifth-grader Sadie Riester. “I got to feel baleen and touch whale bones too. It was really cool. I want Mr. Hudson to be one of my teachers in high school and I really want to study marine ecology.”
Hudson also gave the students a briefing on the design and construction of the sculpture—a metal “skeleton” with plastic bottle “bones” that will represent the spine and rib cage of a whale, and the kids headed outside to begin building.
“Malcom is a feeder school to Dana Hills, so that fact that we can work together is really important,” said Nona Areimer, one of the visiting Malcom teachers. “We want our students to know that the ocean impacts and is impacted by everything we do on land. It was really important for them to learn today that most of the single-use plastic bottles are never recycled and none of them get made into new bottles.”
Malcom teacher Elisa Slee added that for her students, working with high school kids is making a big impression on them.
“Anytime we can have young scholars in action with older scholars, it helps inspire them,” Slee said. “Some of these kids have never been in a high school classroom or even on a high school campus and this experience can be extremely powerful.”
The finished sculpture will be 30 feet long, by 9 feet tall, by 8 feet wide and will be on display adjacent to the Harbor walkway between Island Way and Baby Beach, along with all of the Dana Hills High School visual arts displays. The sculpture will remain in place through the entire two-weekend event, March 5, 6, 12 and 13, as well as the week in between.
Hudson added that the partnership is good for his students as well.
“What we’re trying to do here, overall, is to promote stewardship,” he said. “It’s one thing to talk about it and another thing to be involved in it. And what my students are doing here are stewarding the next cohort of students that are going to come up to Dana Hills. In the big picture, they are all going to serve as models for adults as well. Our students are very ecologically-minded. They don’t like what our generation and generations past have done. They know they are inheriting a big problem and they want to take action. This gives them that outlet, to be active, be involved and do something about it.”
Senior Alyssa Boscardin agreed.
“I think sharing this knowledge with young kids is important because it can help protect our oceans and beaches in the future,” Boscardin said. “We are helping the younger kids build a love for the ocean and its animals. I love working with kids and to see them get involved like this since they will be taking our place in a few years. This project will add a great message to the festival because many people don’t realize how big an effect plastic has on our oceans. Seeing it as part of a sculpture representing the carcass of a whale illustrates how deadly the problem really is.”