A few science students at Thomson High School went south for their winter break. Science teacher Jody Keith took five students to the MarineLab Aquatic Science Education Facility in Key Largo, Fla., where they experienced lab and lecture classes with marine biologists every evening, and snorkeling field trips during the day.
"It was a chance for them to go somewhere they don't ordinarily get to go and learn in a hands-on environment," Mrs. Keith said. "They were really great kids the entire trip. They were troopers."
The students were in the classroom taking notes at 9:30 each night, Mrs. Keith said, and back out in the water the next morning. Senior Jennifer Keith said the field trip was non-stop action with snorkeling twice daily, classes in a floating classroom and PowerPoint lectures. She said they also had a night class out in the ocean on a boat to learn navigation techniques using the constellations and the moon's effects on tides.
"We were either touching it, in it, or learning about it every day, all day," she said.
Although the trip was open to all THS students, Mrs. Keith said only five went: Weston Meehan, Chelsea Jones, Jennifer Keith, Todd Kelley and Allen Clark. Mrs. Keith said more than half of each student's total cost was paid through fundraising events such as the Powder Puff football game and Krispy Kreme donut sales, and the remainder they paid themselves. The students gave a presentation at the March Board of Education regular meeting and shared what they learned from the experience.
Freshman Allen Clark said the lessons learned during the trip have helped him do better on a Biology test, and Jennifer said it has helped her in English class to better understand the book they are reading, Lord of the Flies, which is about coral.
Both students enthusiastically cited facts about identifying fish from their body styles, snorkeling techniques, constellations, water characteristics, varieties of seagrass, mangroves and coral reefs.
Highlights of their trip included seeing an unusually large lobster, being stung by plankton, collecting invertebrates to examine in a lab and diving to see the Christ of Abyss. The statue is an eight and one-half foot tall, 4,000-lb. statue of Jesus Christ which stands in 25 feet of water. It was a gift from the Egidi Cressi family of Italy to the Underwater Society of America.
In addition to the wonders of the deep, the students also brought back fun memories and other real-life lessons that can only come from traveling as a small, mixed group to a large, educational facility visited by hundreds of others:
"It was kind of embarrassing, but funny, because we drove up on a short bus, and we hung signs on our windows ... and everybody else came in chartered buses, because they had like 50 students," Jennifer said.
"The thing I'll never forget was seeing Todd trying to put on a dive suit. He looked like the Pillsbury Dough boy," Allen said with a laugh.
"There was this guy who worked in the cafeteria who was grumpy all the time. He scared me," Allen said. "Yeah, we did everything we could think of to make him happy, but it never worked," Jennifer added.