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Shucking oysters and making waves

on October 23, 2013

Oscar Hernandez, a fifth-grader, stared suspiciously at the cold, wet oyster that lay on the table before him. He took firm hold of the mollusk with one hand, and with the other he plunged a shining blade into the lip of the animal’s shell. He struggled momentarily and then pop, his hands dripped with salt-water. Oscar’s classmates cheered. He had shucked his first oyster.

“When we’re older, we are going to have to cook for ourselves,” he said.

At Making Waves Academy, a middle school in Richmond, students can take long-time educator Aaron Reaven’s popular class, “Healthy person, healthy planet.” The class focuses on nutrition, cooking, and environmental issues that relate to the food supply. In a recent lesson, students learned how to shuck and cook oysters, donated from the nearby Hog Island Oyster Company.

“So much more groundwork and familiarity are needed for students to understand their connection to the oceans,” Reaven said. “This fit right in because we were talking about sustainable fisheries and the food supply.”

Two teachers from The Watershed Project, an environmental advocacy organization based in Richmond, facilitated the lesson for the Making Waves students.

“Our whole program is trying to connect students to their watershed. If you can talk to students early about their environment, get them connected to the environment, then they’re able to make choices throughout their life that improve their environment. We use oysters as a vehicle to do that,” said Chris Lim, 36, program manager for The Watershed Project.

During the class, students bounced between two stations, shucking oysters and chopping vegetables. By the end of the period, the room smelled of fresh pesto and broiled oysters.

“In our communities there are not a lot of people who eat oysters, but if more people learn to eat oysters then they will be healthier,” said Malik Worley, a sixth-grader.

As the steaming oysters were pulled from the oven, students raced to slurp down the product of their hard work. But in the excitement, Reaven’s message, “healthy person, healthy planet,” was not lost.

Ulises Sanchez, a seventh-grader said, “It is part of life, every life is important, don’t let it go to waste.”

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