By Sara J. Hallas

Fall is a great time to visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Here are before and after photos of the living shoreline federation volunteers planted at the park. 

MANTEO — In this season of thanks I’ve been thinking about the many rewards of my job and reflecting on the aspects I enjoy most. For example I get to watch our restoration sites change from eroded shorelines into bountiful marshes, full of thriving plants and animals to identify. As the Spartina alterniflora, or salt marsh cord grass, losses its green blades and takes on dormancy for the cold winter to come, I get excited knowing it will be back bigger and stronger next spring. I enjoy taking students out to these sites and see their excitement and amazement at the small fish, shrimp, crabs and birds living in this habitat I helped create. I often gaze out over the water and wonder, where would these animals live if we hadn’t made this home for them?

I love that I get to take students out of their science classroom and plant rain gardens that they can observe change color and shape during the school year. To see their attitudes change as they develop into environmental stewards and take ownership of “their” plant is very rewarding. As the vegetation we’ve planted grows, and the diversity of wildlife in our project sites increases, I feel like this is Mother Nature’s way of saying “Thank you,” and I am thankful for that. Though above all of these highlights of my job, my absolute favorite aspect of knowing that my hard work has truly made a difference is when I receive thank you notes written by the students themselves.

I organized a water quality lab at the federation’s office for the eighth grade from Manteo Middle School to participate in. The set-up consisted of numerous stations with individual instructions and all the necessary equipment to test for basic water quality parameters. This included a duplicate set of materials organized in the front of the building in order to accommodate up to 60 students on site at once. Even though I have organized this field trip several times before, it’s still quite a time consuming task.

So you can imagine my appreciation for the stack of formal thank you letters I received in the mail from many of the students who participated in the field trip, less than a week after I had finished cleaning everything up. To hear in their words how much the field trip affected their learning makes me realize my efforts did not go unnoticed. Some of them made me laugh out loud and they all brought a smile to my face and my heart.

Not surprisingly, gratefulness is not a topic mentioned in the standard course of study for middle school science objectives. Go figure.  Yet the Manteo Middle School Science teachers used this opportunity to incorporate an invaluable life lesson for these students, while also getting some great practice at composing a formal letter. Thank you for teaching today’s children how to be appreciative; it’s a vital trait that will certainly pay off in the long haul of life. Hand-written communication is going out of style, with all the new avenues of social media communications, which adds even more value to these printed letters sent by snail mail. I love hearing from the students about what they learned because of my influence, I am thankful for this because, for me, there is no greater reward.

Mary Ann Hodges, an eighth-grade science teacher at Manteo Middle School, helps students with water quality investigations during a field trip with the federation.

Here are some excerpts of what they had to say:

“I learned a lot on this trip from the salinity, pH, and nitrogen levels. Thank you for all the work you guys put into the field trip.” – Joshua Houston

“Thank you for taking the time and effort to set up and host for our experiments. What I really enjoyed was being outside, because tactile people, like me, enjoy learning by action, movement and touch. I will strive to keep the environment clean and safe, as you pledge and your career has devoted you to.”         –Eleanor Carroll

“I want to thank you very much for taking time out of your day to teach us and spend time with us.”       – Logan Marshall

“I would like to thank you for being nice enough to allow my class to learn about water quality. It sincerely helped me understand because of the hands-on learning you provided. It was also a nice change to be outside and working with the real thing.” – Alexis McCallum

“Our field trip to the Coastal Federation was very informative; the stations really got us involved with learning about our waters. It was captivating how much we could learn about it in less than a day.” –Katherinne Rabanal

“Thank you for all the time and work you put forward to me and fellow classmates. We appreciate everything that you did. The stations were great and the staff members who helped us were even better. It must be interesting to work there.” – Jay Woodson

“Thank you for having us over to learn about water quality. It was interesting to learn about the water quality tests, because I’m thinking of pursuing a profession in science. I might join the Coastal Federation team when I’m older, as that is something I would enjoy.” – Ryan Braswell

“Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to teach us about water quality. I never really realized that the sound was considered brackish. Before, I thought that all of the ocean water on Earth was pretty much the same. I had no idea that the components fluctuated.” – Wesley Mitchum

“I greatly appreciated my recent field trip to the Manteo office of the N.C. Coastal Federation. I can’t thank you enough for this because it’s affected my life forever.” –Bryson Casey