Guest blog post by Lyra Dalton
Lyra Dalton is an avid beachcomber, marine adventurer and cephalopod enthusiast who has been working at the Seattle Aquarium as a youth engagement mentor and citizen science instructor for the past year, as well as doing educational programming and youth engagement at Woodland Park Zoo. She loves to share her passion for marine life, ecology and conservation with anyone who will stick around long enough to listen. A life-long resident of the Puget Sound area, she grew up more in the ocean than beside it and loves to get her hands wet sharing what she’s discovered—in the classroom, on the beach or in her writing. Below, Lyra shares her experience as an educator on a field research excursion with a group of teens.
Waking up to rain on the morning of an outdoor field trip is normally the kiss of death when working with teens. It’s a universal signal that attitudes will be bad, no one will be wearing enough layers, and you will spend the rest of the day talking in an overly cheerful voice trying to pull your students out of the depths of teenage misery. I was taking 20 teens out onto the R/V Centennial, a marine research vessel owned by the University of Washington, to drag a dredge net along a patch of seafloor and look for animals. In good weather, this is an amazing opportunity to see bottom-dwelling animals, spend time out on the water, see what field research looks like, and get a killer view of the Olympic Mountains—what educator could hope for more? In the rain, this is an opportunity to get wet and cold and then dig through freezing sludge with your bare hands.
When we showed up at the boat things were looking a little bleak. It started to rain harder and there were more teens than raincoats present. I braced for the worst, drained the rest of my coffee, and counted the attendees. To my amazement, they were all present. We headed out onto the boat in a break in the drizzle, explored, lowered the net and started to drag it. The rain started again, but as we began to bring up the net everyone gathered outside to watch, crossing the fingers and toes they could still feel that something amazing would emerge. It kept raining, and blowing wind. The winch kept malfunctioning, and the net stayed under water. As I lost feeling in my fingertips, I thought I should maybe pop inside, but a stalwart group of teens remained, watching, waiting and learning. As anyone who has been involved in field research can tell you, for every beautiful day you enjoy outside, there’s likely to be two days where it’s too hot or too cold, and things don’t go as planned. We talked about this and I found that rather than buoying my teen’s spirits, they were buoying mine. These tough Northwesterners had no problem hanging out in the rain for two hours. And when the net finally emerged, depositing a huge pile of freezing mud, they rolled up their sleeves and painstakingly dug through it.
To the people who wince a little when I tell them I work with teens and give me a pitying look, I hand this back to you. I love marine science, have been a patented science nerd for as long as I can remember, and I still felt reservations about sticking my hands into that mud—but the teens did it. They did it with smiles and enthusiasm. There was some shrieking and frozen fingers, but there were also sea cucumbers smaller than my fingernail that they pulled from the sludge. Tiny snails emerged, a baby kelp crab; they pulled out giant fish-eating anemones dripping with slime and passed them around, wondering and laughing at the gelatinous texture. They braved marine worms with rings of terrifying teeth, and carefully placed each animal into tanks for further examination. When they were done, their fingers were so cold that warm water burned when it touched them, but no one regretted a moment.
Once the boat had docked we all huddled indoors while parents arrived to pick the teens up. I looked around at my soaked charges and ventured a question, “So, what did you guys think?” Every student smiled back at me, raised thumbs up, nodded, and agreed, “It was awesome!” They loved it. If I’d said come back tomorrow, I think they would have agreed to then and there.
I work with these teens because they inspire me. Every day I get to see their passion, their drive, and their dreams for the future. I walk away with so much hope and faith in what they can, and will accomplish. Their dedication to marine science and conservation reminds me why I want to work in this field and defies every teenage stereotype I can come up with. This trip on the Centennial was just another reminder of how much teens have to offer, and how important it is that they get opportunities to learn, grow and remind us what they’re made of.
Lyra Dalton is an avid beachcomber, marine adventurer, and cephalopod enthusiast who has been working at the Seattle Aquarium as a youth engagement mentor and citizen science instructor for the past year, as well as doing educational programming and youth engagement at Woodland Park Zoo. She loves to share her passion for marine life, ecology, and conservation with anyone who will stick around long enough to listen. A life-long resident of Puget Sound, she grew up more in the ocean than beside it, and loves to get her hands wet sharing what she’s discovered, in the classroom, on the beach, or in her writing.