BRADENTON -- Fishing net in hand, Galena Vang, 9, waded into the water at the Robinson Preserve, carefully looking to capture animals and vegetation in her net. After a few minutes, she came up with a lot of weeds and a few shrimp, but the shrimp were so small they escaped through the holes in the net.
"It escaped," she said, shrugging her shoulders as she rejoined her group of students participating in the first year of the Manatee County Title I Summer Science Camp.
More than 400 students from 15 county elementary schools participated in the program. The program ran in two week sessions, with students participating for four days at a time. Students visited a different site each day, where they were fed breakfast and lunch, created a craft and participated in different outdoor activities.
"I thought we were going to be staying inside," said Galena, who will start fifth-grade at Bayshore Elementary School in August. "This is more fun."
The program is aimed to help economically disadvantaged students brush up on their science skills and participate in camp-style activities that they might not have access to otherwise, said Randy Stowers, the Title I science specialist for the district and coordinator of the camp. The program is funded federally through Title I and didn't cost the students or their families any money. In its first year, the program has been a success so far and Stowers hopes to be able to expand to Title I middle and high school students next year. Focusing on science is a natural fit for the area and a natural fit for a hands-on experience for students.
"Science is a vehicle for the students to have a fun experience," Stowers said.
In addition to the Robinson Preserve, students visited Lake Manatee State Park, Emerson Point Preserve and the Florida Aquarium.
At the Robinson Preserve on Wednesday, students sat in the shade and crafted a horseshoe crab out of pipe cleaners, coffee filters, paper plates and plastic utensils. Students also looked for different types of birds and went dipnetting to find fish and other water creatures.
Crafting the horseshoe crabs was fun for 10-year-old Gabrial Goff, who will enter fifth-grade at Bayshore Elementary School in August. Earlier in the week, while visiting the Florida Museum, Gabrial said he got to touch a horseshoe crab.
"Everyday, it's like we're on field trips," said Gabrial, adding this summer session is much more fun than regular school. "It's been great."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.