By ROBERT C. JONES JR.
Peering through goggles that nearly covered her small face and wearing an air tank almost as big as she is, 9-year-old Ginesy opened her mouth as wide as it could go and took a few short breaths through a dive regulator, her face beaming with excitement.
The third-grader from Miami Gardens Elementary School had never donned scuba gear before, so the weight of the equipment took a little getting used to.
“This is really heavy,” she said, as some of her young classmates and friends formed a line behind her, waiting for their turn to suit up.
Ginesy was one of about 200 at-risk youngsters from three Miami-area schools who tried on scuba gear, dissected squids, peered at plankton through microscopes, and molded corals out of clay as part of the third Ocean Kids event.
Held on the University of Miami’ s Coral Gables campus on November 13, the event taught youngsters about marine science and conservation, raising their interest in the subject through 15 hands-on learning stations.
“Public schools are working on small budgets, and many of these kids don’t get the opportunity to go on field trips, let alone visit a college campus,” said Jill Richardson, a faculty member in UM’s Undergraduate Marine and Atmospheric Science Program and co-founder of the Future Interests in Nature and Sea (F.I.N. SEA) Foundation, which staged the event. “Ocean Kids is inspiring for these youngsters.”
The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the UM student organization Rho Rho Rho, the Big Blue and You Foundation, the Marine Mammal Stranding Team, and the Miami Seaquarium also helped sponsor the event.
At “The Marine World Magnified” station, the students examined different types of plankton through microscopes, learning about the organisms’ importance to the oceans. For some of the children, it was their first time peering through a microscope.
“I had no idea animals like this even existed,” said Alexus Almentero, 9, a fourth-grader from Liberty City Elementary School.
At “Mangrooves,” the students learned about the importance of mangroves as an ecosystem and how they protect our coastlines. At “Category 5,” they learned how to track storms and forecast hurricanes using maps. They discussed ocean pollution, examined the internal anatomy of squid, studied the ecology of sharks, and handled horseshoe crabs and Aplysia.
About 100 educators, many of them UM undergraduate marine science majors, assisted the youngsters at each station, explaining scientific terms and marine animal behavior.
The squid dissection station was Amaya King’s favorite. “It was just so cool,” she said. The 10-year-old, a student from Liberty City Elementary, said she wants to be a pediatrician. Her mother, Robin King, encouraged her to attend the Ocean Kids event because “anything involving science will help her realize her dream of becoming a doctor.”
JoeAnn McIntosh, a teacher at Liberty City Elementary who accompanied ten of her students to the event, said the activities at Ocean Kids can help her fifth-grade students prepare for the science portion of the FCAT. “And you never know. They may grow to be marine biologists,” she said.