Students get a hands-on lesson in ecology

BEAUFORT — St. Peter’s students continue to see that the classroom extends beyond the school walls as the eighth-graders at St. Peter’s School had the opportunity to hit the water again this year with the help of The Kayak Farm.

In cooperation with Eric and Will Gibbons and Michelle Anderson of The Kayak Farm, students are looking at the Lowcountry’s salt marshes and lagoons in a new way these days. After five fall kayak excursions exploring the ecology and beauty of their own backyard, these students have seen their homes from a different perspective.

The partnership between St. Peter’s and The Kayak Farm began last year. Heather Rembold, a St. Peter’s teacher, felt it was important that her students take responsibility and action for the place they call home. Both Rembold and Eric Gibbons hold degrees in environmental education. After a water ecology program was established last year, a plan for the 2000-2001 school year was created that would take students out on the water a total of 10 times.

During the first five trips, which took place over a month’s time in September and October, students were encouraged to learn the different species of plant and animal life native to the area, to assess the area for its ecological health, and to reflect on the beauty of the place they call home. Students began the program with a trip to Hunting Island Lagoon. Here they began to familiarize themselves with native species and understand more about the waterways. Two trips to Paradise Pier yielded a close-up look at crabs, shrimp, sand dollars and dolphins. Other visits took them to the salt marshes leading to St. Helena Sound. It was during one of those trips that they entered a small pond that had been polluted. Due to tidal changes, the students were only able to spend about 30 minutes in the creek doing a clean up. During this period of time, 19 individuals completely filled the hatches of their kayaks with everything from Styrofoam, glass, plastic, shoes, and empty oil bottles. It was during this short, but productive cleanup that the students began realizing that they can make a difference in seemingly small, but significant ways.

Rembold also used the experiences to help students realize the interdependence within the ecosystem. Students began to realize that when one component is removed or changed within a habitat, instability may be created within the entire ecosystem, adversely affecting other inhabitants. Going hand in hand with this project was the opportunity for students to take a closer look to how faith asks us to care and nurture the planet. During the cleanup project one of the eighth-grade students turned to their teacher and said, “Aren’t we kind of giving drink to the thirsty by doing this?” Not only were they performing a corporal work for the people who live in and around that creek, but they were also offering their service as stewards of God’s planet.

With the help of the new S.C. Aquarium, Rembold was able to further explore aquatic and Lowcountry issues with her students. By taking a field trip to the aquarium, the students were able to see more clearly the way watersheds are influenced by the entire state of South Carolina. The aquarium helps the students do this and see the interconnectedness of the regions from the mountains to the sea.

Following the first five kayaking excursions, the eighth-graders had a variety of reactions, including how exhausting kayaking can be. However, all of the students were motivated and excited by the first five trips and look forward to continuing in the spring. An overnight kayaking trip is already being talked about and planned.

Rembold said, “I greatly appreciate all the support and expertise of our friends at The Kayak Farm. It is such a rewarding experience for our students. If our eighth-grade students internalize this appreciation and determination that they are gaining as stewards for the natural world, then we have done something right. Our success, as environmental educators, can be measured by all that these 13 bright and exciting young adults go on to achieve for maintaining and improving our planet earth.”