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Gulf Coast Research lab hosts after-school marine biology program for youths

JEFF CLARK/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDRiley Shorter, Cassady Bickham and Savannah Sempier prepare to visit an estuary in Ocean Springs Monday. The Ocean Springs Upper Elementary students are participating in an after-school marine biology program at the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.
JEFF CLARK/SPECIAL TO THE SUN HERALDRiley Shorter, Cassady Bickham and Savannah Sempier prepare to visit an estuary in Ocean Springs Monday. The Ocean Springs Upper Elementary students are participating in an after-school marine biology program at the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

OCEAN SPRINGS -- For the past semester, some fourth, fifth and sixth grade students at Ocean Springs Upper Elementary School have been getting hands on experience as they study marine biology one day a week. The program, which is conducted at the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, has now added a second day for students in the seventh and eighth grades. The elementary class meets on Monday afternoons and the seventh and eighth graders meet on Tuesdays.

"This is a program we started last year," Director of External Relations Paul Moeller said. "It's a one afternoon, two-hour program. We have the students picked up on a bus and they come to the lab and do something marine biology-related. There is some indoor classroom work and a lot of in the field work."

Moeller said the program is centered around a monthly theme.

"This month's field of study is estuaries," he said. "Estuaries are where rivers flow into salt water. We are actually going to take the kids kayaking and show them an actual estuary in Ocean Springs."

Marine biologist Summer Dorcik said the program not only teaches students about the Gulf Coast, it also helps them to become good stewards of the earth."

"When we pick them up on Mondays, they are very excited and they can't wait to get here and start their lessons," Dorcik said. "I think it's important because there are kids that don't know what's in their own backyards. They don't know the importance of an estuary or what lives in an estuary or why that's important to the environment. They're learning not only through the classroom but through hands-on experience."

For fifth grader Riley Shorter, 10, the hands-on experience is what keeps her coming back.

"I liked getting to touch the real sharks," Riley said. "Usually when I go to these things, you don't get to touch real things. It's been a lot of fun."

Cassady Bickham, 10, is in her second year with the program. She said her favorite activities are the the ones conducted outside.

"I love getting my hand dirty," Cassady said. "We are going to go fishing with some little nets. I like catching things."

Moeller said the research lab is currently admitting seventh and eighth grade students. Tuition for the class is $150 monthly or $375 for the semester, which includes all fees. The class does not meet during the month of December.

For more information on the program, call 228-818-8833 or email marine.education@usm.edu.

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