TAVERNIER, Fla. — It’s a typical day inside Beth Rosenow’s marine science classroom, where students make sure the aquatic creatures in their tanks stay healthy and happy.
“We're not just relying on textbooks and YouTube videos for teaching the curriculum,” Rosenow said.
That’s because this marine science class also relies on the outdoors. Unlike most schools, Coral Shores High School sits right on the ocean, in the middle of the Florida Keys.
“It literally is right behind the football field,” Rosenow said. “I definitely think that we're able to offer it in a unique way here at our school.”
However, being along the water — and getting underwater — are two very different things. Growing up in the Keys doesn’t always mean you can afford to access it.
“We have children that they just see that water if they go over the bridge on the bus on the way to school,” said Leah Stockton, president, and CEO of United Way of Collier and The Keys.
That’s where the marine science class partnered with United Way, Reef Renewal USA, and others to help restore critically damaged coral reefs just offshore.
“It's a whole other world,” said Hailey Cooper, who is in the class.
The ones doing the coral restoration work underwater are these students.
“The diving is the best part because we get to see firsthand how things work with coral restoration,” said student Olivia Sargent, “and we get to do surveys for reefs so we can help count the fish that are struggling in the ecosystem.”
It’s also part of an effort to get more students interested in STEM careers. A recent report from the National Science Board shows that the highest concentration of workers with college degrees in STEM is in California, Colorado, Montana, Virginia, and Maryland.
“Our ‘Mission: Iconic Reefs’ is a bold, $100 million [plan] -- the largest coral restoration plan in the world,” Stockton said. “All we're doing today is for naught if we don't teach them how to carry this work forward.”
It’s the kind of scientific work that doesn’t come cheap.
“It's very expensive. I mean, even not just the boat itself, but the equipment that you have to use to do these opportunities,” Rosenow said. “I make sure that it's available to all students, regardless of income.”
The hope is to get them into careers in marine science.
“It's creating potential career fields for the kids,” Rosenow said.
So far, it appears to be working.
“I'm definitely continuing studying it in the future,” said student Hailey Cooper. “I'm going to college for marine science.”
Graduating senior Grace Matthews plans to study environmental engineering when she heads to college this fall, thanks to a scholarship and internship she earned through the class.
“If I hadn't had this marine class opportunity, if I hadn't had any of these resources, it would be very challenging to get to this point,” she said.
Matthews hopes to pay it forward as she thinks about how the environment affects small communities all across the country, just like hers.
“You have to be able to think about small towns, small communities and how the environmental effects will affect those communities themselves, but also globally,” she said.
It’s a chance to look at the big picture, thanks to valuable time spent just beyond the classroom.