A vast ocean for young campers

Diego Saldaña-Rojas / Contributing Writer

Squid and shark dissection, observing microorganisms underneath a microscope and building up a coral model.

These would sound like activities for graduate students in a science lab, yet they are being performed by children in the EcoAcademy Summer Camp organized by the School of Environment, Arts and Society.

“These kids know more than you would imagine,” said Nicholas Ogle, camp counselor and University alumni.

According to Grimm, the camp is in its fourth year and caters to children ages 6 to 16 who have an interest in marine biology and the environment. Children can register by week, so the number of campers is usually around 30 and 40.

“This is a great opportunity to expose youth to our campus and programs,” said Jennifer Grimm, environmental programs manager.

The counselors working in the camp are University students or graduates. Middle and high school students also have the chance to volunteer as junior counselors.

“It’s interesting to take them out and show them how the ecosystem is, the animals that live there, what makes it function efficiently and what makes it healthy,” said Kimberly Weisenberg, marine biology senior and counselor.

Each week has a different theme regarding what the campers learn and participate in activities related to that specific topic, such as creatures of the sea, Florida environmental, deep sea and global warming.

“The ocean is all around us, and most of the kids don’t even know anything about it,” said Weisenberg.

Daniela Bueso, senior environmental studies major, working as a counselor for the first time, explained that the counselors have discussions with the children about the activities they are doing so they can understand the science behind it.

Ogle, who recently graduated in environmental studies, told the story about the day that the children dissected a squid in the lab. After working on the squid, they took the campers to the the teaching food lab in the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management where Chef Mark D’Alessandro cooked calamari.

“The chef asked the children what was a calamari and one of them raised the hand and said, ‘It’s a cephalopod!’”

Ogle, who is working as a counselor for the third time, was pleased to see the campers applying what they had learned in the classroom. His experience working at the camp has given him much insight into how to spread awareness of environmental conservation.

“This camp has been really important for me in taking that message to kids which is one of the biggest things in public outreach,” said Ogle.

Bueso also shared the story about the day that they built a coral model with candy, which they ate by the end of the day. Even though it sounds like a simple and entertaining activity, the campers studied the coral parts and built it step by step, from the skeleton to the tentacles – different types of candies built different parts of the corals.

The children also kayak and snorkel every Tuesday and Thursday. On Monday and Wednesday they go the pool, and on Fridays they go on field trips to places like the Miami Science Museum, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and Monkey Jungle.

Ogle acknowledges the challenges of raising awareness, not only for children but also in the community and in politics.

“A lot of people think that it’s pretty easy to take that science and it really isn’t,” Ogle said.

“This has been a great lesson for me in how you take that science and turn it into a lesson that you can actually get people excited about.”

Additional reporting by Barbara Corbellini Duarte

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