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Life lessons with science

Students enjoy an evening snorkeling under the cool ocean water while experiencing bioluminescence.
(Inset) Castle Pines campus student Zach Buchold found his school trip souvenir, a lobster, while swimming with the leopard and horn sharks.

By Julie Matuszewski; photos courtesy of American Academy

What an amazing experience American Academy (AA) seventh grade students had on Catalina Island. Motsenbocker Campus STEM Lead Instructor, Chris Todd and 19 chaperones joined 163 students from all three AA campuses for a week of science adventure at Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI). This was the fourth year AA attended the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) and several have asked Todd if it’s starting to feel like the movie “Groundhog Day.” Todd’s reply was a heartfelt “no way!”

While the activities were the same, each campus had different scheduled activities. It was the reaction of students that made this trip worth while. Who wouldn’t be blown away snorkeling at night while experiencing bioluminescence, swimming with leopard and horn sharks, hiking the island habitat and rolling up one’s sleeves to dive into detailed labs and discussions? For many this was their first time on a plane and/or going out of state. For several others, this was their first time seeing the ocean.

CIMI was one of three optional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) field trips to the middle school students. The goal of this trip was to immerse students in the field of aquatic ecosystems, working side by side with experts in the field of marine science while allowing students to work outside of their traditional life science classroom.

163 students from all three American Academy campuses show their enthusiasm for an exciting and rewarding week on Catalina Island.

Toyon Bay, one of the four camp locations, provided students with individual exploration and discovery but also taught them how to work in small teams to accomplish goals while learning to get along with others in group living situations. Students had several opportunities to apply what they learned within their labs, including kayaking across the bay with their small teams. Castle Pines campus student Samantha Granader said she learned things she never would have known if she hadn’t had this opportunity at CIMI. The most fascinating thing Granader learned was in the algae lab. She had never understood the importance algae has in our underwater ecosystem up until this past trip. It was an opportunity that expanded her knowledge on marine life.

Upon return to AA, the seventh grade students utilized what they learned at CIMI to mentor first graders during their marine science STEM unit. Students spent a day teaching first graders four different marine animals through a dissection lab.

The experience these students had on Toyon Bay was not only educational but one of personal growth and independence. Todd felt the excitement on the students’ faces was what made this trip all worthwhile.



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