Whidbey ECO Network unrolls new website, partnerships

Calyx School student Kaih, 8, learns about the chiton her class found at the beach at South Whidbey State Park with teachers Michelle Song and Sarah Gillett. - Janis Reid / The Record
Calyx School student Kaih, 8, learns about the chiton her class found at the beach at South Whidbey State Park with teachers Michelle Song and Sarah Gillett.
— image credit: Janis Reid / The Record

On a trip to the beach at South Whidbey State Park Wednesday, the students of Calyx School found a gumboot chiton, a large marine mollusk.

Discoveries like this are what the park-based, progressive school is all about.

“We’re not actually teaching,” said Caylx teacher Sarah Gillett. “We’re making an educational setting that is the best educational experience. Children learn best in environments where they can play and ask questions.”

Now in its third year, Caylx school moved into the South Whidbey State Park ranger house in September. The home-turned-school, vacated last year due to budget cuts, is shared by Calyx as well the organizations SEA (Service, Education, Adventure) and the Friends of South Whidbey State Park.

With a focus on the environment and using the state park as its “classroom,” Caylx School is the newest partner of the larger Whidbey ECO Network, which aims to collaborate with other environmental groups and organizations around the region.

The network’s motto: “Whidbey waters are in your hands.”

Stewardship of the park and its shoreline is part of what’s taught to Caylx students, a message that it is also trying to get to the public.

Whidbey ECO Network, an umbrella organization of individuals and organizations on Whidbey Island, is working to save Puget Sound and educate on sustainability issues. They are one of a dozen ECO Networks throughout the region that collaborate on a comprehensive vision to recover the vitality of Puget Sound through public education. Together they comprise the Puget Sound Partnership.

Whidbey ECO Network partners include the Orca Network, Pacific Rim Institute, Whidbey Island Conservation District and the Washington State University Beach Watchers.

The local organization’s website,, is intended to be a one-stop informational site for all things environmental on Whidbey, according to program director Susie Richards, who also coordinates the SEA program.

“What’s going on in our world is scary to some people,” Richards said. “We’re offering a positive way to empower people to do something about their environment.”

One of the group’s key messages is getting the word out about the effects of microplastics, small pieces of plastic that are used in some brands of tooth paste, facial scrubs and other products. In addition, Richards said, dog feces is the largest pollutant of Puget Sound, and making sure the public understands the importance of poop-scooping is key.

“Getting all these groups together is a community-based way to get out these critical messages,” Richards said. “And through individual actions at our homes and businesses, we can make a difference in the future of the health of the sound that our children will inherit.”

Through “Pub Talks” and other events Whidbey ECO Network members provide information, education and assistance on composting, septic systems, rain gardens, porous pavement, car wash soap, beach clean-ups, natural yard care, pet waste or manure management.

“Ask us,” Richards said. “We’re here to help.”

The next Pub Talk series by the WSU Beach Watchers, entitled “What’s so special about Whidbey Island?,” will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 1, 14 and 21 at Ciao Restaurant in Coupeville.

For those interested in joining Whidbey ECO Network, email or visit


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