Fifth-graders at Seaside Heights Elementary School are receiving exposure to economic and environmental sustainability in a tasty, fun way during the 2016-17 school year.

During the Seaside School District Board of Directors meeting March 21, fifth-grade teachers from the Heights presented on the school’s yearlong partnership with the Oregon Albacore Commission, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for an educational boat-to-school pilot program.

“It’s been a really, really exciting program,” fifth-grade teacher Laurie Dougherty told the board. “I wish it wasn’t a pilot, and we could keep it going on and on.”

Funded by an approximately $15,000 farm-to-school grant from the Oregon Department of Education, the program connects students to local seafood and fishers. The purpose is for students to learn about the importance of seafood to the state’s economy, as well as “where their food comes from, and that they can eat healthy and enjoy it,” Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive director of both the salmon commission and the Oregon Albacore Commission, said in a Grant’s Getaways video on the program shown to the Seaside board.

Fitzpatrick spearheaded the boat-to-shool program along with Christa Svensson, an export and marketing manager at Bornstein Foods, and retired teacher Robin Timmons Malony.

Since October, the program has featured four different segments on wild and locally sourced seafood and the individuals who catch and produce it.

The program started with salmon in October; the school was visited by guest fishers and speakers from the Oregon Salmon Commission. According to fifth-grade teacher John Meyer, the segment included a sample of freshly caught salmon, smoked right on campus, for all the fifth-graders. They also received activity books — featuring projects that applied mathematics, artistic skills and vocabulary — and dinner kits with fresh fish, other ingredients and recipes to use.

The same components were incorporated into a rockfish segment in December, a Dungeness crab segment in January and an albacore tuna segment in March. The program will wrap up with a pink shrimp segment in May. The idea was to cover “all the major [seafood] exports from Oregon,” Dougherty said.

The program also financed a trip to the Nehalem Fish Hatchery for the students, where they got a more hands-on experience with live fish and a deeper understanding of biology and conservation. The program coincided with the release of coho salmon fry into the river, an activity Meyer has conducted for his fifth-graders for several years.

During their presentation to the school board, the Heights’ teachers shared a testimonial from a fifth-grader’s parent, who wrote, “I believe that teaching a kid to cook is a vital part of growing independent and healthy. And it’s so fantastic the school is supporting this, while also supporting our local community and fishermen.”

In the Grant’s Getaways video, Fitzpatrick said she hopes this program “can go all over the place,” even outside of Oregon.

“All of our coastal states have their own seafood, so maybe we can be the template for other areas to develop something like this,” she said.

In other news:

• After a public hearing, the board unanimously approved a resolution exempting the school district from the competitive bid process when hiring a construction manager/general contractor for the new school campus construction project. Mike Day, with owner’s representative DAY CPM, discussed how the exemption will not lead to favoritism and will result in cost-savings for the district. It is “the commonly used contracting method by local governments for larger, complex projects,” such as Seaside’s new $100-million school campus, Day said. With the approval, the procurement should take place in April. Community members are invited to a meet-and-greet event from 5 to 6:30 p.m. April 4 at the Heights Elementary School. They can interact with staff from the district, DAY CPM and DOWA-IBI Group, the architecture firm; learn more about the bond program; and find out how to get involved with the project.

• The board unanimously approved a resolution to accept a $4 million matching grant from the department of education’s Oregon School Capital Improvement Matching Program. Business Manager Justine Hill said Seaside originally was a runner-up but after another district’s bond measure didn’t pass, Seaside became eligible to receive the grant instead. The resolution authorized Superintendent Sheila Roley to sign an agreement with the education department. The grant will be distributed as reimbursements for payments made on anything related to the project up to $4 million, Hill said.

• The board approved the calendar for the 2017-18 school year. It is similar to previous calendars, with school starting Sept. 5, the day after Labor Day, and a two-week winter break. One change, Roley noted, is parent-teacher conferences for kindergartners have been scheduled on the same day as those for first- through fifth-grade students. In the past, having the conferences on different days caused “a hardship on some of our families,” Roley said.

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