Saturday, August 3, 2013

High school students learn survival skills throught science By Elizabeth Richards

Twenty-one high school juniors and seniors from New England and New York are learning the science of survival this week at Saint Joseph’s College. They are participants in the first Science Island Extreme summer program, which culminates in a mock shipwreck and rescue simulation on Little Chebeague Island in Casco Bay.

    The program was developed after Lynn Brown, dean of enrollment at St. Joseph’s, heard about a course, Science Island, that high school teacher Russel Taylor was teaching. Taylor was inspired by Dr. Jonathan Hare, a British physicist and television presenter, after watching Hare shoot his voice across an island on a light beam on an episode of the BBC’s Rough Science. When he couldn’t replicate the experiment, Taylor emailed Hare to ask how he had done it. Hare responded, and a friendship began. Together, they developed the curriculum for Science Island.  When Taylor teaches the course, Dr. Hare visits his classroom from England via Skype. This summer, Hare has joined the staff of Science Island Extreme.

    After Brown approached Taylor, a committee was formed, and after a year and a half of organizing and planning, Science Island Extreme was launched. Brown said that the program was developed for several purposes. “We wanted to develop another recruiting strategy, as well as generate some summer revenue, and utilize the wonderful campus we have here,” she said.

    Taylor, who is the co-director of the camp, said there was originally some pressure to have the program last summer, but it was quickly determined that that wouldn’t be possible. “We wanted a quality product, we wanted something that was really good, and to do that takes a lot of time,” he said.

     Taylor said the committee didn’t want this to be just another survival camp. “We wanted to focus on science and STEM (Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology) and put a real twist in the survival,” he said. In order to do that well, they had to find a faculty which included experts in their fields, who could also teach. Taylor brought together a team of highly skilled instructors who fit that bill.

    Maureen LaSalle, director of Alfond Center, events & wellness for Saint Joseph’s College, is the camp’s co-director, and the organizational guru for the program. Her role was to work out scheduling and all the details essential to planning this kind of program, including making sure parents felt comfortable dropping off their kids for a week, and making sure campers knew the expectations, as well as where to be and when. 

    Putting the camp together was a true team effort according to Taylor and LaSalle. “Without the really strong teamwork that took place, it would not have come together so well,” said LaSalle. “We all sort of ran with our own expertise in putting the camp together. It really was a partnership,” she said. 

    Students had to go through an application process similar to what applying to college would be like, said LaSalle, because along with the hands-on learning experiences, they are earning three college credits for their participation. Additionally, there is some SAT prep work built into their schedule for the week.

     Taylor said that he knew they would need to “ramp up” the Science Island course to make it a successful camp experience.  “Kids don’t want just a science camp, they want to do something cool,” he said. “We wanted them to use all their knowledge at the end on something really big. A lot of camps you learn it and then you go home, but you never apply it.”

    That is not the case with this program. On Friday, the participants will be taken by barge to Little Chebeague Island, split into two teams for a friendly competition, and put through a series of challenges which will force them to use the skills they have learned. They will attempt to get a message to the Coast Guard, who along with the Portland Fire Department, have agreed to conduct a rescue training exercise that day. “It will be a thrilling ending because you get to use all this stuff, you have a competition, you have all these challenges, plus you get the real rescue, what the feeling would be. It’s the closest you could come to actually being shipwrecked and learning those skills with the most competent professional people you could find,” said Taylor.

    In preparation for their big adventure, participants will rotate through four one-hour classes daily that will teach them the skills they will need to get through the challenges presented to them on the island. They are working in labs and classrooms, as well as outdoors on the campus.

    On Tuesday morning, the second day of camp, students were dispersed throughout the campus. One group was gathered on the campus green. Dr. Hare was leading the group through the light beam experiment that had first inspired Taylor to seek him out. He will also work with students on skills such as Morse code and radio communications, among other things, throughout the week.

The second group was working with Nancy Cripe and Steve Engstrom, who are teaching skills in water purification, botany and foraging for food. The first day was spent learning what the students already knew about different plants, and then getting out and collecting edible plants, said Cripe. On Tuesday, they were working with “critters from the sea,” such as periwinkles, mussels and clams, learning how these creatures live, as well as how to safely prepare them to eat. Thursday, said Cripe, they will learn how to make water potable, and Thursday will be spent preparing them for their island adventure.

A third group gathered at the edge of the woods, where a rope strung between two trees served as an outdoor classroom. Instructor Wade Ward led the students through information essential to rope rescues.  In addition to rope rescue skills, Ward will teach orienteering and navigation as well.

A steady squeaking sound came from the final group, located in the woods behind the campus, as students tried to start a fire with friction using a bow. The group was focused and engaged, adjusting the length of their bows or their technique after suggestions and encouragement from instructor Mike Mutchie. In this session, students were going to learn other methods of fire starting as well. On Monday, Mutchie had taught shelter building, and the evidence of this class was scattered throughout the wooded area.  Mutchie will also teach wilderness first aid skills to the students throughout the week.

LaSalle said that camp is going very well. During the camp session, she is on hand to make sure students are safe, where they need to be, and entertained with some evening presentations, though they don’t want to add too much into the already full schedule. “We’re not trying to fill the camp with a lot of extra things because the academic piece is challenging. It’s exhausting, because these instructors have them all day long,” she said. “The curriculum is pretty intense. They’re learning a lot in a short period of time,” she added.

Participant Brianna Russell from Falmouth, said she found out about the program from a pamphlet at school, and was drawn to the hands-on experience it offered. She’s looking forward to the island experience on Friday, but said “I think it’s really important that we learn the skills too. I’m glad we’re learning the skills.” On this second morning of camp, she said she was having a lot of fun. Adam Josselyn, a student from Oxford, agreed. “It’s the most fun I’ve had in a while,” he said.

The goal for the program is to have it grow, and continue to take place at Saint Joseph’s year after year. “We want it to be something that Saint Joseph’s can look at and say this is something very unique, very high quality that will attract a student that’s really interested in survival and science. I think that we’ve succeeded on a small scale the first time through,” said Taylor.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks to all the faculty at St. Joseph's College for putting together a wonderful experience for the students.


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