Skip to main content

Meet Susan Grasse – an inspiring teacher at Santa Ana High School who has helped her students connect with their environment through with Coastkeeper’s education program for more than five years.

Our WHALES program (Watershed Heroes – Actions Linking Education to Stewardship) helps all students become water warriors through interactive in-class exercises and field trips at no cost to schools. We sat down with Susan to hear how this innovative program is empowering her students to love and protect our environment.

Coastkeeper: How have WHALES field trips made a difference in your students’ lives?

Susan: The program has been phenomenal for students in inner city situations who have never seen the beach. Some of my students have never even been outside specific streets or outside Santa Ana. They get so excited to explore places like Silverado Canyon, where they can go hiking the woods or see squirrels running around.

One year, I had to push for one mom to allow her daughter to attend. She said she might not like it. But when it was time to leave, the student said, “Do we have to go now? This is the most beautiful place in the world.”

Why are these experiences significant for you?

I began my love of outdoors when my biology teacher in high school offered extra credit for students to go to Sierra Club meetings. I went, and I was thrilled with everything about it.

It’s incredible to see that same light go on for my students on these trips. It gives them the time to experience the outdoors and embrace learning with all their senses, so it becomes more real to them.

What types of lessons do your students learn through WHALES?

I mostly teach ninth grade students in earth and geological sciences. We’ve done one or two field trips a year for the past five years with WHALES. Coastkeeper covers the cost of a bus and a substitute teacher to make it possible.

At Newport Back Bay, one student pulled a potato bag from the mud and said, “How did this get here?” We took a look at the watershed and talked about what happens when you throw trash away on the street. It ends up in the ocean.

Because I live in their city, I can encourage them to find out about their neighborhood association and join local cleanups to put those lessons into practice.