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Sea School offers hands-on ocean experience to students

January 10, 2018
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Last month the Sanibel Sea School treated elementary aged children to Bunche Beach Preserve as an extension of what they learned in the classroom, complete with hands-on experiences.

"We reached out to The Heights Foundation to forge a new partnership within out landlocked program. We recognized that there was a need for ocean education with the kids in the Harlem Heights community. Many of the children do not have the means to visit the ocean that they live so close to, let alone have a quality education about it. We believed that we could fill this need within the community and inspire the young kids to conserve and protect the ocean," Nicole Finnicum, Sanibel Sea School director of education, said.

Marine Science Educator Shannon Stainken began working with the Heights Foundation in October after she joined the Sanibel Sea School team last year. She works with two groups of students, kindergarten through second grade, and third through fifth grade.

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A youngster with the Heights Foundation finds a horseshoe crab during a field trip to Bunche Beach Preserve with the Sanibel Sea School.


Before the 5 to 11 year olds are treated to a day in the ocean, Stainken visits them in the classroom for an hour.

"The lesson plans are similar to our day classes, focusing on either a specific sea creature, habitat, or physical component of the ocean. I try to bring live creatures, or an interactive activity each month to incorporate some hands-on learning," she said. "Plus, I absolutely love to see the students faces light up when we see and interact with a sea creature they've never seen before."

After a visit in the classroom with kindergarten, first and second grade students, the youngsters went to Bunche Beach Preserve on Dec. 20.

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"For the classroom visit I brought a live Florida fighting conch and bivalve shells. During the lesson we discussed how shells are skeletons of once living mollusks and the differences between bivalves and gastropods," Stainken explained. "I focused on the fact that gastropods make their own shells and cannot leave their shells and stay alive."

The classroom visit resulted with the students having an opportunity to hold the fighting conch and observe the animal.

Once the students arrived at Bunche Beach, Stainken provided a refresher of what they learned during her recent visit to their classroom. The review was followed by a walk down the beach exploring tide pools for creatures, specifically gastropods.

"The students were so excited to find sea creatures, especially the king's crown conchs" she said.

Stainken confessed that although she has only worked with the students from the Heights Foundation for a few months, they have already stolen her heart.

"They are so eager to learn about and experience the ocean. I love to see their faces light up when I bring a new creature to the classroom and better yet, when they discover something new on their own at the beach," she said. "I think what I enjoy most is their excitement for the field trip. On this past visit to the ocean, it was one of my students first time going to the beach. She was so excited afterwards and couldn't stop saying 'the ocean is awesome!' Being able to share that experience with her was truly magical."

Stainken said she believes the adults and chaperones from the Heights Foundation also enjoy the classroom visits and field trips.

"The feedback I receive is always very positive," she said.



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