07/03/11 — Students float in classroom

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Students float in classroom

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 3, 2011 1:50 AM

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Ryan Carpenter, left, and Ricardo Exum paddle in the paddle skills section of the Center for Applied Aquatics Ecology Floating Classroom program at the Cliffs of the Neuse State Park.

Rachel Sauls has an avid interest in marine biology.

When she learned about the weeklong Advanced Floating Classroom Program, held this past week at Wayne School of Engineering, it held an immediate appeal, not to mention that it would ultimately "look good on a college application." So she applied.

By Thursday, the rising sophomore at Eastern Wayne High School and one of 10 participants in the program, had been to Cherry Research Farm, received canoe lessons at Cliffs of the Neuse, toured the wetlands at Wayne Wastewater Treatment Plant, and was anticipating a six-hour excursion on a research boat in New Bern.

"It was so different, but in a good way, because I was thinking of being in a classroom all day, but we have been going out." she said. "It's been fun, just being with the whole team of people who are here for the same reason you are."

Courtney Smith, also a student at Eastern Wayne, said the canoeing had been her favorite part of the week so far.

"I want to be a marine biologist," she said, saying she had especially enjoyed learning how to test PH levels.

Rachel said she actually knew going in that would be part of the drill, but was still pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

"It's so much more complex than that," she said. "I had no idea how much work it really takes to make our rivers clean."

And that was part of the goal of the program, said Robert Reed, researcher for the Center for Aquatic Ecology at N.C. State University,

"The idea was to give them an intensive one-week experience in aquatic ecology," he explained.

Earlier in the school year Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, director of the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology, with the assistance of Susan Randolph, a science teacher at Wayne School of Engineering, received a three-year grant from the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund to educate Wayne County students on the local river.

A presentation was made to all district ninth-graders in the spring. The summer program had openings for 15 students and was done through application and teacher recommendation.

The $175,000 grant provided for three components -- the spring presentation, classroom education and two summer camps, this year and next.

"It's going really wonderfully," Ms. Randolph said. "The kids think it's great."

Bobby Hunt, who attends Wayne School of Engineering, said he applied specifically because he's interested in aquatics.

"I plan to be some type of biologist," he said.

Most said their favorite part had been canoe instruction, which Ms. Randolph explained was actually in anticipation of a fall program being offered.

"We'll be floating down the Neuse River, the instructor was preparing for that -- safe handling of the canoe, water sampling in the Neuse and small streams, analyzing those," she said.

Friday's excursion to New Bern also provided an opportunity for the group to collect samples all along the Neuse River, Ms. Randolph said.

"We do different stations from New Bern down to around Oriental," said Reed. "We take water samples, gather other data, take that back and run the data in our labs. We have got a Facebook page, so we will be putting a lot of this stuff on there so that they can get at it."

The students' reasons for applying to the camp may have varied, but all said the week had exceeded their expectations.

"I wanted to see something different and pass it on to others," said Shalaya Brown, a rising sophomore at Goldsboro High School.

Already interested in science, she is considering careers in either nursing or cosmetology, she said.

"What I have gotten out of (the camp) was that a lot of things that you expect before turned out different. Like, so far I went to the wetlands. I thought it would look nasty but when you actually see it for yourself, it looks absolutely pretty," she said. "It actually changed me for a minute, what I thought."

Casey Shearin, of Wayne Early/Middle College High School, said her interest was piqued after experiencing the spring assembly.

"I have always been interested in marine biology, so I thought this would be great to be exposed to it," she said. "At Wayne Early/Middle, we can work toward an associate's degree. I wanted to know whether I wanted to go for science or arts.

"Through all the technology I have been exposed to and all I have learned this week, I really like this, I feel like it's a field I would like to go into."

Ricardo Exum, also of GHS, said it was unlike anything he had ever done.

"I learned a lot of stuff about plankton, algae and all that stuff," he said. "I just wanted to learn something new. When I learn something new I might go (into it) as a job career or something like that."

Dr. Burkholder commended Ms. Randolph's abilities as an educator, as well as the group of students who took part in the summer program.

Next, she said, she hopes to enlist support and interest from parents -- not only to encourage their children to participate in similar programs, but to gain a better understanding about science and the importance of environmental issues.

"I'll talk to all the high school students in the fall," she said. "We'll start recruiting for next summer. And we'll hold several Saturday sessions during the school year."