Are You Smarter than a (Cape Cod) Third-Grader?

CHATHAM -- “I think every kid who lives on Cape Cod should know how to dig up a clam -- to eat, or just to check out. Maybe put back down and watch dig in. We have drifted so far away from the natural world and into the cyber/virtual world. Shellfish bring us back to the sand, surf and water.”

So says Nancy Gowan from A.R.C. Hatchery, and thanks in part to her, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, the Cape Cod Foundation, the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, and other partners, a lot more children will be able to strengthen their connection to the environment that makes our sandbar unique.

Starting this spring, third graders in the Monomoy school system (that includes Chatham and Harwich) will be diving into all things shellfish with an intensive curriculum. At the end they will be crowned “Shellfish Ambassadors.”

“A Shellfish Ambassador knows all about why shellfish are important to Cape Cod and how to protect them to keep the environment healthy,” says Melissa Sanderson from the Fishermen’s Alliance. “Shellfish Ambassadors are like scientists, curious about how to help protect the environment. They will keep track of what they learn, their questions and reflections, in a notebook.”

Sanderson was one of the driving forces behind the idea. She is familiar with all aspects of shellfish – growing, research, marketing, eating - and understands the importance of shellfishing on the peninsula.

With the industry worth $45 million a year to growers and harvesters in the Commonwealth (almost half coming from the Cape), it’s a big deal. And it’s always been important. Shellfish were a reliable, crucial source of food for Native Americans and settlers; in the 1600s wampum (quahog shells) served as trade currency between Native Americans and Europeans.

But beyond money, shellfish are part of the culture and personality of the Cape.

The new curriculum, close to 100 pages, touches on all of that. There are 17 separate lessons that range from identifying different types and ages of shellfish to how you get a shellfish permit to where you can harvest, where you can’t, and why. Just like real ambassadors, students are encouraged to share what they learned with others.

The curriculum tackles big issues like defining watersheds across the Cape, what pollutants are harming water quality, and how those pollutants impact shellfish.

Great work by the Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance, Monomoy’s Marc Smith (Director of Curriculum) and The A.R.C. in Dennis for implementing some practical STEM studies and using the surrounding environment for education. Most of us on Cape Cod enjoying oysters and clams, but do we know that much about them? Could this type of curriculum expand beyond the Cape’s “Blue Economy”? What else should Cape Cod kids be taught growing up here?