From Seeds to Shoreline (S2S) is a salt marsh restoration program that introduces K-12 students to a critical coastal ecosystem through gathering the seeds of smooth cordgrass (Sporobolus alterniflorus), cultivating them in school-based greenhouses, and planting them in select marsh locations.
The educators at the new teacher training session work with a range of K-12 students. Most were from near the coast, but one teacher was from the Columbia area. Several schools as far inland as Greenville have participated in the program for years.
Educators participate in the S2S program on site at a salt marsh. Photo by Joey Holleman, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.
E.V. Bell, S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s marine education specialist, told the newcomers the goals for the day were to help them appreciate the importance of the salt marsh ecosystem, indoctrinate them in the S2S program’s history and purpose, and provide resources to empower them to bring the program to their schools.
For homework, the participants were each assigned either a salt marsh plant or animal and asked to bring in a “fun fact” on that creature. Once on site, they headed out into the marsh for a brief introduction to the star of the program, S. alterniflorus. Then they were tasked with finding an example of their homework assignment out in the marsh.
The teachers gathered marsh grass, fiddler crabs, periwinkle snails, sea pickle, and sea ox-eye daisies. Then they gathered to share tidbits of knowledge about these salt marsh residents.
As the day moved on, the teachers learned how to recognize when the S. alterniflorus seeds are ready to be harvested, how to slide pinched fingers up the stalk to pry away the seeds, and how and where to store the seeds during germination. Michael Hodges, a marine biologist with S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement Program, walked them through the process of cultivating the seedlings in small containers of soil, and he stressed the importance of keeping them moist. “It’s all about keeping the babies alive,” he said.
The teachers practiced constructing one of the small, prefabricated greenhouses used to protect the seedlings through the winter months. Then they headed back out to a designated marsh restoration area for a demonstration of the planting process, which involves assigning hula hoop-sized areas to students and providing trowels to dig small holes for the seedlings.
Back in the cool classroom at SCDNR’s Fort Johnson complex, Bell introduced the teachers to online tutorials and lesson plans. They also stocked up on a veritable library of related free printed publications stacked on tables.
The participants exuded excitement throughout the day. “As a science teacher, educator, and researcher, I always ask the questions, ‘What is happening here?’ ” said teacher-turned-student Merrie Koester of Charleston after the training session. “Clearly what was happening here today in this time, place, and space was the enactment of an ethic of care for an ecosystem that lives, breathes, gives, and protects by teaching us what it is like to BE a salt marsh.”
The day after the new teacher training, educators with experience in S2S gathered to discuss their struggles, success stories, and anything new they needed to know about the program for the coming school year. Through emails and a Facebook page, they also help guide teachers new to the program through challenges.
S.C. Sea Grant Consortium launched S2S in 2011 in partnership with SCDNR and Clemson University Cooperative Extension. Teachers in more than 50 schools in South Carolina have participated in the program, and companion efforts have launched in North Carolina and Georgia. In addition to educating students, the program is designed to restore degraded marsh areas. During the 2017-18 school year, 28,182 stalks of S. alterniflorus were planted by 1,274 students, creating 1,888 linear feet of restored marsh.