Isle of Wight County Schools

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IWCS Students Participate in Summer STEM Academy

All eyes were focused down on the large seine net stretched across the muddy ground.  “Ooh, we got a crab.”  “I see some jellyfish.”  “There’s a fish in there!”  Students from the Isle of Wight County Schools Summer STEM Academy were on a field trip to the Chesapeake Bay where they conducted research on the marine environment.  Led by IWCS Science Coordinator Heather Greer, students studied water chemistry and tested the bay’s water for dissolved oxygen, temperature, and salinity.  They examined components of sand and identified the possible sources for the sand along the bay in Hampton.  Students waded into the shallow water with nets to collect samples of marine organisms.  Their haul included blue crabs, jellyfish, and a variety of small fish native to the bay-- silversides, bull minnows, mullet, killifish and a juvenile oyster toad.  They even discovered part of an old Whelk shell now inhabited by a bashful hermit crab.  Along the shore, they observed Fiddler crabs and even a live clam or two.  Teacher Erin Jewett commented, “Watching these kids in the water, they are just so full of joy.  A lot of them may not have felt like that before during school time.  I love it.  I think it’s great.”  One student echoed Jewett’s sentiments, “I wish this was school every day.”

The field trip was a key component of the eight day STEM Academy offered to approximately 150 kindergarten through eighth graders.  The program, housed at Windsor Elementary, presented a new twist on a traditional summer school program.  The curriculum centered on marine science and incorporated activities that emphasized crucial areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), along with reading and writing.  As part of the program, each student selected a marine organism to research.  They gathered information on their organism and compiled what they learned into their very own, hand-written book, complete with illustrations by the student. 

Administrators for the program, Assistant Principals Kristy Buggs (Windsor Elementary) and Zachary Haney (Windsor High), emphasized the importance of developing a caring environment for the students.  Each morning, the staff of twenty-five, including fifteen teachers and five instructional assistants, gathered to conduct a group “energizer”—an activity that engaged them physically and mentally.  “We feel like we’re a team.  We just all bonded,” said teacher Monique Claude-Pollard.  The energy and motivation demonstrated by the newly-formed team flowed into all of the classrooms, creating a positive atmosphere for each student at every grade level. 

The feedback from students was overwhelmingly positive.  Comments from some of the middle school students included, “You get to learn a lot and you get to meet new friends,” and,” You get that extra help that you need.” 

It isn’t the norm for students to wish for summer school to last longer.  However, the Monday after the academy ended, a student emailed the division the following request:  My friend and I just finished the STEM program and we really liked it and wanted to know if we can do it again for another 2 or 3 more weeks.  Please email back as soon as you can.