The Board of the Coonamessett River Trust (CRT) is delighted to nominate Lucinda Keith for the Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education. Ms. Keith, a third grade teacher at the Bournedale Elementary School, used the CRT’s Adopt-a-Herring Program as a springboard for teaching her students about the natural world and local history and culture. While we had many other teachers participate in the program, Ms. Keith was an inspiring example of what a talented teacher can do with a simple idea.
The Adopt-a-Herring program was started by the CRT as a way to engage the public in saving river herring and as a fundraiser for our river restoration program. As the river herring begin their migration up the Coonamessett River in the spring, we capture and insert rice sized tags in about 500 the fish. These tags are like the ‘easy pass’ system for your car – the tag is the transponder and the tollgates are placed at strategic locations along the length of the river. As the fish pass by the tollgates, we can learn a great deal about how they move through the river system. The general public can pay a small ‘adoption fee’ and name their adopted fish. Then using our web site, they can follow their adopted fish as it moves throughout the river. To get local students involved, we donated tags to several school classrooms in the local area. Most teachers did as you might expect – talked to the students about the natural history of the herring and had them look at a map of the system and where the fish were found. Ms. Keith went well beyond the expected, using the tagging program in amazing ways to engage her students in multiple dimensions. She thought carefully about how to use this program to meet a broad distribution of school requirements. She recognized that the requirement block for third grade on the life history of an animal and the herring tagging program were a natural fit, but she took this opportunity well beyond just basic life history. Ms. Keith started the life history section by having her class name “their” fish. Then they decorated cutouts of fish and put them at the starting point on the large wall map of the river we provided. The kids came up with very silly names that sent them into giggles, and then lavishly decorated the fish – as you can easily imagine 3rd graders doing.
Through out the spring run, Lucinda followed her classes fish on our tracking web site and had the kids move the fish along the river on the map as the real fish moved through the river system up to the ponds to spawn, and then back to the sea. Ms. Keith also strongly believes in ‘experiencing is understanding’. She had hoped to take her class on a field trip to experience the river and the fish first hand, however, the constraints on classroom schedules prevented this trip. However, she did not let that stop her. On the weekends, she walked the 3-mile length of the river taking pictures and videos – from the estuary near where the fish were tagged to the pond at the top where the fish spawn. She felt it was important that the river and the fish were ‘real’ to her students and in this way, her students could understand what the fish experienced as they navigated the river and why the restoration was so important for the fishes survival. She used the student’s own questions as springboards to enrich the curriculum in physical science and satisfy their curiosity about how fish survive. For example, when the students asked her whether it was a problem for the herring to move from salt water to freshwater, she could have given them an answer. Instead she believes in her students learning for about it for themselves. She made another trip to the river, on the weekend again, taking water samples from five locations up and down the river and brought them back to her classroom. The students then tested the salinity of the water using specific gravity hydrometers, learned some physical science about the density of water and salinity, and then had to figure out on their own which sample belonged where along the river from
fresh to salty. They all got it 100% right!
Ms. Keith also developed a curriculum piece to connect students to local cultural history through the Wampanoag Indian tribe customs surrounding river herring. At an event at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve she met an elder of the Wampanoag tribe and learned their traditional stories of herring. Ms. Keith took several ideas back to her students and had them write stories of from the perspective of a herring migrating up Coonamessett River. She also had the students plant the traditional “three sisters” – corn, beans and herring. However, because the taking of herring is not allowed, they used sardines instead! Finally, they also made herring nets, just as the Wampanoag had, though on a much smaller scale and with lots of decorations. At our request, as part of programs on river restoration and citizen science, Lucinda has given several short public presentations about her classroom studies that she created from the adopt-a-herring opportunity. She was always the most inspirational and favorite speaker on the docket, and she readily agreed to help work with adapting the opportunity for students and teachers at other schools and other grades. She is helping to develop a resource base for teachers to choose appropriate activities that can enhance their classroom herring studies. Ms. Keith is an inspiring example of the teacher we all wish we had had when we were younger. She took a simple idea – follow some herring as they travel along a river – and turned it into an exciting romp through animal life history, physical sciences, and local Indian history and culture. Her students became completely engaged with the life history of river herring on the Coonamessett and now understand how restoring the river to a more natural system will benefit the fish and other animals. We hope that you agree that Ms. Keith is a very special educator!