Alex Tayun and Jonathan Puerto couldn’t stop bragging about their big catches — using tiny nets — while dip netting at Emerson Point Preserve last week.
“We were catching big fish,” 10-year-old Alex said.
“We were catching crocodiles,” Jonathan, also 10, added.
The two students, who previously attended Orange-Ridge Bullock Elementary and will attend Team Success in the fall, are part of the Manatee County School District’s Title I Camp SNAP, a summer program that gives students a “camp-like experience” while learning about science.
For four days, the students travel to various sites to hike, kayak, dip net and learn about science and nature. This year’s sites include Rye Preserve, Emerson Point Preserve, the Florida Aquarium and Oscar Scherer State Park.
At each site, organizers try to do one outdoor and one classroom type of activity for students, to keep them out of the hot sun and to infuse some more traditional-style learning. At Emerson, students learn about the different type of fossils found in the area and get to mold their own out of clay.
“It brings in the history, as well,” said Megan Johnson, a Title I coordinator in the district who helps run the summer program. The program was devised to encourage learning through science and give students who attend Title I schools a chance to have a camp-type experience, something Johnson said many of their families cannot afford.
Johnson said teachers tell her the students are able to reference their Camp SNAP experiences during the school year, which adds to the classroom experience as well.
On the hiking trail at Emerson, right up against the Manatee River, teacher Kate Gleason encouraged students to “think like scientists” as they examined some of the rocks that abutted the trail.
“These rocks aren’t native,” she said. “Why on earth would men make them?”
It didn’t take long before a student offered up the right answer: to help keep the river from flooding up onto the trail.
“That’s right,” she said. “We know that big science ‘E’ word — erosion.”
In addition to teachers and some high school volunteers, the school district actually trains the bus drivers in the science curriculum, so the bus drivers can jump in and stay involved during the trips, which typically run from 9 a.m. to about 2:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
The Title I officials also work with the Food and Nutrition Services department to provide coolers for water and food for the students.
“It’s just a huge collaborative effort for both our camps,” Johnson said, referencing Camp RISE, another one of the district’s Title I summer camps, for some of the younger students.
Meeting clamoring demands from excited students, officials also added a one-week session for rising seventh- and eighth-grade students.