By EMMA BARTLETT Two hundred eighth grade students from Park View Middle School and Hugh B. Bain Middle School will advance their education on ocean exploration this spring thanks to a $24,953 grant Mystic Aquarium received from the National Marine
Two hundred eighth grade students from Park View Middle School and Hugh B. Bain Middle School will advance their education on ocean exploration this spring thanks to a $24,953 grant Mystic Aquarium received from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Exploration. The program’s curriculum will provide projects and local excursions for students.
Out of 67 applicants, Mystic Aquarium was among seven organizations who received the award. In order to be considered, proposals had to focus on ocean literacy, stewardship or workforce development projects. Due to the lack of diversity in science, technology engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) fields, the grant would support STEAM education/identity for students from underserved/underrepresented communities.
“We were super excited because it was the national evolution for us working with elementary and middle schools,” said Katie Cubina, the senior vice president for mission programs at Mystic Aquarium.
Mystic Aquarium said they chose eighth graders for this project because it is a pivotal time in students’ lives when they establish their own identity, begin to explore career options and have more agency in their academic and career pathways.
The grant’s project period runs from Jan. 1 to July 15 and the curriculum is currently being developed; Cubina explained some of the upcoming plans for students.
In the first project, students will receive a variety of household items and work in teams to build their own exploration tool to retrieve an object from a model ocean. This task introduces students to engineering and design principles in a fun way and youths will have a chance to revise their tools and focus on what did and didn’t work. The second project is a game that will center on the reality of over fishing and how to make a food population sustainable over generations. These projects will be put into kits and shipped to the two schools in April.
In addition to this experiential learning portion, eighth graders will receive a guided tour of URI’s Inner Space Center, attend an educator-led coastal field study of Narragansett Bay and participate in a field trip to Mystic Aquarium to experience the Aquarium’s new exhibit on the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and other marine monuments in the Pacific. The project will also include a live interaction with Kimberly Galvez, a first generation American ocean scientist. These events will take place between May and June.
Bringing the students to the university and showing them what is out there gives them something to strive for as well as recognize the possibilities that are out there for them. Cubina said they will also get to explore biodiversity studies, invasive species and marine clean up while exploring the coastline on the shore of Narragansett Bay.
Ayana Melvan, senior director for strategic partnership at Mystic Aquarium, said the organization has previously partnered with Cranston’s elementary and middle school levels for different initiatives provided through grant funding. One endeavor included protecting areas like Stillhouse Cove where the kids became passionate about leaving a smaller footprint and protecting the environment.
“For me, when I heard we got this grant it’s another step in the right direction for the kids that get overshadowed,” said Melvan.
Melvan explained that seven years ago she worked in a mentorship program with Cranston students and brought them to Misquamicut Beach to explore the area. The students learned about life guarding and Andrea Seaside Restaurant and Beach Bar fed them for free – a good handful of them had never been to the coast before. Melvan said when she went over to the school bus, the bus driver was in tears saying she had never been to the beach.
“It’s incredible what the youth don’t get exposed to because Cranston doesn’t get enough support,” said Melvan. “We’ve been trying to get all this support for Cranston to stop stories like this.”
“I want young people that look like me to believe that they can be in these careers,” said Melvan, who identifies as a person of color.
The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA Ocean Exploration explained why they chose Mystic Aquarium for this grant.
According to Chip Weiskotten the director of strategic communications at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, the two organizations chose Mystic Aquarium because “Their project clearly articulated barriers impacting (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access) DEIA in STEM in their region and included project activities to reduce those barriers and support two of the three dimensions of the grant - ocean literacy and workforce development.”
Mystic Aquarium's overarching goal is to increase participants’ interest in and understanding of ocean explorations and ocean exploration careers.
“Our hope is that youth will feel inspired to go back to their own communities and become environmental stewards,” said Cubina.
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