Grandparents 'U' brings generations together

Grandparents “U” participants surveying the ecology of the rocky intertidal at Western Washington University’s Shannon Point Marine Center. Courtesy photo

Marla Hovey of Guemis Island, and her granddaughter, Meadow Gustafson, clean and prepare marine algae for a two-week pressing process. Courtesy photo

Grandparents “U” participants surveying the ecology of the rocky intertidal at Western Washington University’s Shannon Point Marine Center. Courtesy photo

Hannah Leone
For Western Today

Madison, a fourth-grader and returning Grandparents “U” participant, teared up when she learned her first Grandparents “U” class was over and said, “I want to go back to college,” her grandmother Sharon Gray said.

Gray and Madison came back to college Aug. 2 and 3, when Western Washington University’s Grandparents “U” summer program completed its first session at Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes.

The two-day intergenerational summer program for grandparents and their grandchildren ages 7 to 14 provided 19 participants a chance to spend time together while exploring marine ecology topics taught by Western faculty. Class size was limited by efforts to protect the shoreline, and spots quickly sold out.

Shannon Point director Steve Sulkin said as a natural laboratory, the beachfront at Shannon Point is a fragile habitat; walking on the shoreline compresses the rocks and alters the habitat significantly. As a result, he said, Shannon Point employees regulate their activity carefully and apply the same caution to all programs.

Western’s Extended Education department first offered Grandparents “U” in 2008 and expanded the program to Shannon Point in August 2012.

Grandfather Bernie Walz participated in the Bellingham program with his granddaughter and the Shannon Point offering with his fifth-grade grandson, Garrick. Walz said the new Anacortes location allowed him spend quality time with each grandchild and not have to choose between one and the other.

“We’re making memories,” Walz said.

Sulkin said the program’s faculty instructor, Jude Apple, is an expert at teaching marine science to all audiences. As a marine microbial ecologist and marine science educator at Shannon Point Marine Center, Apple studies water quality, eutrophication and climate change in the Salish Sea.

Participants in the new program conducted surveys of rocky intertidal, shoreline and plankton communities and identified many of the organisms that live in these habitats.

Sulkin said the program was a fun and productive learning experience for all.

“It has given us the opportunity to expand our learning opportunities in the marine sciences to a new audience, two generations at a time,” Sulkin said.

For more information, visit www.wwu.edu/grandparentsu, email youth@wwu.edu or call (360) 650-3308.