Watersheds and Ocean Ecosystems: Science Center Visit Enhances Learning

Recently, Mount Madonna School (MMS) fourth and fifth grade students visited the Seymour Marine Science Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz; this off-campus learning adventure was included to support students’ studies of local watersheds, food webs and the ocean ecosystems.

“Students visited the marine center to help them develop a deeper understanding of how matter changes as it moves through food webs and watersheds,” said fourth grade teacher Nick Cabassa. “Learning about ecosystems is part of the fourth grade science standards, and beyond that, I want each student to gain a deeper understanding of how their own personal actions can affect the watershed and ocean ecosystem.”

Fifth grade students have chosen orcas – or killer whales – as the focus of their class’ year-long, cross-curricular environmental learning and community service project. The science center exhibits and activities help to enhance their understanding of the orca’s ecosystem.

“This field trip was a wonderful way for students to understand how the broader ecosystem is connected and how deeply each human action affects the ocean ecosystem,” said fifth grade teacher Jessica Cambell. “This aligns with students’ orca project, as they learned about plastic pollution, a threat to orcas, as well as issues that Coho Salmon are facing locally with the various dams that prevent spawned salmon from returning to the ocean.

“This directly connects to the biggest threat facing the most endangered orca population, the Southern resident orcas, as they are starving due to a lack of Chinook Salmon returning to the ocean. In the last few years, the Southern resident orcas have come farther and farther south in search of salmon, and the Coho Salmon found off of coastal California are helping to feed them, but sadly these salmon are also low in numbers due to the many dams. Students were able to put together all the pieces through different lab activities and directly connect what they learned to their project.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 380 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The program, accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) and Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.