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Young minds go to sea

A marine science class, part of an after-school program, plunges students into another world.

By DONNA WINCHESTER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Alicia Mosley always had "a little question mark" over her head about science. The Bay Point Middle School seventh-grader thought it might be an interesting subject to study, but felt a little intimidated by it.

Then her best friend, Kashmir Parker, told her about the marine science class at the 21st Century Community Learning Center. Alicia already was attending an after-school tutoring program at the center at John Hopkins Middle School, 701 16th St. S. At Kashmir's recommendation, Alicia started coming to the class on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

"I always thought I would be in art," said Alicia, 13. "I didn't think I'd want to be a scientist. If I had known it was this much fun, I would have gotten involved sooner."

The class is the brainchild of Albert Hine, who is a professor at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg College of Marine Science. Hoping to interest minority students in marine science studies, he teamed up with John Hopkins Middle School teacher Johnetta Haugabrook in June 1998 to create a hands-on enrichment program called Project Tampa Bay.

Hine said he became increasingly aware a few years ago that USF's world-class research facility adjoins a neighborhood filled with children who lack the resources to learn about marine science.

"We were merely going about our scientific careers, not sharing what we know with the community," he said. "I thought maybe it was time we reached out of our ivory tower and extended a hand to this community."

His son was in Mrs. Haugabrook's science class at John Hopkins at the time. Hine asked her whether she would be interested in helping him put a program together.

They secured a $3,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which was enough to charter the state-owned, 110-foot research vessel Suncoaster for a day. Hine took about 15 of Mrs. Haugabrook's students on a 10-hour cruise and introduced them to oceanographic instrumentation and data collection. Most of them had never been on the water before, Hine said.

Encouraged by the students' interest, Hine and Mrs. Haugabrook decided to expand the program. They approached Bell Corp. for funding, but learned that the Pinellas County School District had used their project as a draw for a three-year, $430,000 21st Century Community Learning Center federal grant.

The Juvenile Welfare Board contributed another $304,000. In October 1998, John Hopkins became one of about 100 sites in the United States to provide students with after-school tutoring as well as arts-based learning activities, cultural studies, social skills training and career counseling. The marine science class became an integral component of 21st Century, Mrs. Haugabrook said.

The class was opened to 10- to 15-year-olds who live in the St. Petersburg Challenge neighborhood, the area between Central and 30th Avenue S and Fourth and 34th streets. Mrs. Haugabrook began dedicating about 10 hours a week to the project, preparing lesson plans and inviting guest lecturers to her classroom. Hine became a frequent contributor, sharing his university research with groups of 12 to 15 students.

He also initiated field trips, which were so successful that a five-week hands-on component was added to the class in the summer of 1999. Since then, he has led trips to a phosphate mine, an electric power plant and a fish hatchery. He has taken students to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota and to SeaWorld in Orlando for behind-the-scenes glimpses of marine environments and animal rehabilitation.

He also has taken students for kayak lessons to prepare them for up-close looks at a mangrove habitat. He has outfitted them with snorkels, masks and fins and has given them snorkeling lessons in the USF swimming pool to get them ready for a field trip to a sea grass meadow. He plans to take a group of students to Big Pine Key for four days this summer to teach them about coastal marine life.

Mrs. Haugabrook said the classroom instruction prepares the students for the field trips by giving them a broad-based introduction to marine science. She covers everything from oceanography to coastal geology, marine life and habitats. Although the ideal model is for students to begin the class in the fall and stay with it through the summer, they can rotate in and out of it at six-week intervals.

Hine's recent two-month expedition near Australia's Great Barrier Reef on the 471-foot drilling vessel Joides provided the students with an extraordinary learning opportunity Mrs. Haugabrook said. Hine e-mailed photographs to the students and kept them informed of the group's research findings. He has visited the classroom twice since his return, sharing core samples drilled from the ocean floor.

"I want to teach them as much as possible about geological history," Hine said. "The whole point is to make them aware of a lot of things they weren't aware of before. I want them to ask questions and to observe, not just to be passive participants."

He said that although the school district sees the class as an enrichment program, for him, it's fundamental.

"We live in a technology-based world," he said. "Science is fundamental to our well-being. It's as basic as English or math."

Mrs. Haugabrook said that the program has become more ambitious since it was started three years ago but the goal has remained the same.

"We just really wanted to impact minority students with choices," she said. "We wanted to give them options and to open up a totally different world to them."

The 21st Century Community Learning Center grant expires at the end of the summer. The school district will find out in about six weeks whether its application for another round of funding will be approved by the federal government, according to 21st Century project manager Irene Seybold.

She said the plan would include programming at nine sites. She is hopeful that one of them will be John Hopkins and that a science component will be included.

In the meantime, Kashmir and Alicia are looking forward to the summer.

"I like hands-on things and I love learning about new things," Kashmir said. "If I ever wanted to be a marine biologist, I could start now."

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