Seventh graders taking class overboard were a stroke of genius

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Hilton Head Christian Academy grade seven students kayak Broad Creek to learn about the environment around them and how to protect it Monday, May 9, 2022 on Hilton Head Island. (Sarah Haselhorst/The Island Packet via AP)

PA

Taking dozens of seventh graders kayaking along Broad Creek was no challenge.

Maybe a challenge for some. And a test of patience for others. But leading groups of life-vest-clad college students — fueled by the exuberance of field trips and teenage spirit — the tandem kayak out of Shelter Cove Marina was a typical spring day. for Jean Fruh and the volunteers of the Outside Foundation.

And it’s the one she wishes every student in Beaufort County had.

Started by two science teachers 20 years ago, Fruh, lifelong educator and executive director of the Outside Foundation, created the Kids in Kayaks program eight years ago. Since then, Fruh and the foundation’s volunteers have removed more than 1,000 Beaufort County students from seven or eight local schools each year.

It’s not just about getting out of a school chair and paddling your way. The program educates students about the local habitat and ecology, teaching them everything from water pollution to the ecological importance of oysters. Fruh said it’s about exposure, connecting abstract concepts using all the senses, and making sure each student goes out to understand where they live.

“Our environment is everything for these children. Jobs will disappear, the economy will disappear if we don’t protect our waters,” Fruh said. “If you want them to protect this, you have to let them love it.”

And they loved it.

WHAT’S IN YOUR GARDEN?

“Do you want to race?” two seventh-graders from Hilton Head Christian Academy have been called up to serve as school principal Doug Langhals.

“I would smoke you,” joked Langhals, paired up in a kayak with one of his students.

The two continued on, navigating salt marshes and winding estuaries, while Langhals, close behind, watched the afternoon unfold on Broad Creek.

Half of his 42 seventh graders were on the water after lunch. The rest were at the dock, rotating through the stations, some of which required them to carefully lie on their stomachs on the dock to draw water from containers for testing and sample retrieval.

About a quarter of science teacher Tamara Davis’s students have never lived near the east coast, she said. Some from Denver and some from Chicago. His class is like a proverbial crucible of geographical horizons.

Davis has been with the program for about 15 years when his own children attended, when two science teachers started it.

“They need to figure out what’s in their backyard,” Davis said.

And for his seventh graders, that involves kayaking.

For some, it was their first time to paddle in the water. Fruh estimated that only about half of Kids in Kayaks students have kayaked, despite living on or near Hilton Head Island. She added that tourists are more likely to kayak than children who live in Beaufort County.

Tyler Young, 14, had kayaked once. But he left Shelter Cove Marina with ease and speed as if he always had.

He wasn’t shy, answering questions like: What is mud pluff made of? What does it mean that oysters are filter feeders? What happens to the shell beds when they are polluted?

“It’s different in person,” Tyler said. “You can see the size of this one.”

He’s talking about Broad Creek.

The waterway, which empties into Calibogue Sound, stretches for miles through Hilton Head like an artery, nearly splitting the island in two and providing everything from kayaking to critical saltwater marshes and habitat for endangered species. It has been considered by many to be the “island’s most important and vulnerable natural resource”. The one who deserves to be protected.

Young discovered the vital Lowcountry salt marshes, teeming with cordgrass grass and full of brackish oyster shells, in class with Davis, but volunteers from the Outside Foundation brought the teachings to life in a different way.

“(Spartina) is a freshwater plant, so how does it live in salt water?” Leslie Bennett posed in front of more than a dozen seventh graders from her single kayak. “How come he’s not dead?” »

“Rain?” a student tried.

Not enough.

“Filtered!” shouted another student.

Yes.

The grass takes in salt water through its root system, filters and desalinates it, then secretes the salt crystals through specialized cells in the leaves.

And so the lessons went as dozens of seventh graders paddled just outside Shelter Cove Marina, learning about the symbiosis between salt marshes, beaches and wildlife on the island. of Hilton Head.

“WATER IS NOT POLLUTED”

Back at the wharf, the students were ashore to understand their environmental footprint.

One group tested the salinity of the water. Simply, one student dipped his finger in the water and took a quick lick “Salty!” he has answered. More wary students looked through a refractometer – a tool used to measure concentrations of substances in liquids – in this case salt water – for testing.

Others stretched their bodies across the floating dock, scraping what they could from the bottom of the docks to identify live specimens, such as tiny snails.

“It’s so slimy,” said 13-year-old Lucy Reese, who pulled out a piece of material from under the dock and tossed it into a plastic container filled with water.

From there, the students separated the masses to identify what lived inside of them. But Lucy’s favorite station was a lesson on water pollution, where Ellen Sturup Comeau used a model city, sprinklers and Kool Aid to drive the point home.

“The water doesn’t get polluted,” repeats Sturup Comeau, water resources officer for Clemson Extension. “So what causes water pollution?”

“Oil spills,” Tyler offered.

“Animals,” Lucy said.

“Littering,” added a third student.

All answers were correct. An oil spill is a point source of pollution — a single, identifiable source. While litter and animal waste contribute to diffuse pollution. Both are made worse by more impermeable surfaces, those that don’t absorb pollution before it runs off into nearby waterways.

One of the island’s biggest contributors?

“Shit,” Lucy said quietly for another student who wouldn’t give the answer.

Specifically dogs.

The most recent data available in a plan for the Broad Creek watershed estimated that there were more than 1,800 dogs on Hilton Head Island in 2016. A dog produces about 274 pounds of waste each year, according to the ‘Environmental Protection Agency. If every islander with a dog refused to pick up their pet, approximately 500,000 pounds of droppings would remain, waiting to end up in the watershed.

Sturup Comeau demonstrated this by pouring brown nuggets on the model city. On top of that there were rainbow sequins to show off litter and pesticides. Next, seven students squeezed water onto the model, letting “fresh water” fall on pollution sources and pool in the model’s waterway.

It quickly turned cherry red.

“Would you swim in it?” asked Sturup Comeau.

Tyler nodded with a smile.

“Would you be swimming in poo, pesticides and trash-laden water?” You are braver than me,” she said.

Beyond courage, pollution on the island, if it gets out of hand, can shut down shell beds and trigger no-swimming warnings. And the solution, in many cases, can be as simple as picking up the trash and after the pets.

For Lucy, seeing a blatant display of pollution made her more aware of how she can help. The only student in her group of seven, Lucy lives with her family on the water and is used to fishing, boating and kayaking on the May River.

But this was the first time she had faced the Broad Creek. She feels the same as Fruh, not talking one-on-one, understanding that the mission of learning more about the environment around them isn’t just for seventh graders.

“Everyone has to understand,” Lucy said. “The more aid there is, the greater the impact can be.”

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