MANATEE -- Saint Stephen's Episcopal School students made their way the morning of Aug. 21, through campus to the gymnasium for the opening chapel of the 2015-16 school year, welcomed by the grating noises of earth-digging machines and the shouts of construction workers.
A construction team was busy building an addition to the Saint Stephen's community: the Marine Science Center.
The Marine Science Center, along with other changes across campus, inspired Head of School Jan Pullen to make this year's school theme: "#change," provoking students, faculty, and the community to embrace and seek out progress.
In recent years, the only constant at Saint Stephen's has been change. The most notable adjustment on campus has been construction of the Moore Athletic Complex, a giant stadium and field space sponsored by the Moore family, who challenged the school community to raise $2 million to match money donated by them. The proper
ty now features a full field house, Astroturf field, rubber track, concession stand, full grandstand, and new baseball and softball fields.
The Marine Science Center is the newest addition. Anne Marie Shields, the science department chairwoman and long-time science teacher, said: "The new Marine Science Center will provide students with a more direct connection with the ocean and marine organisms. The center is next to the McLewis Bayou (the bayou connects to the Manatee River and runs through the heart of the school) will make exploring the ocean environment a daily event. Students will be able to capitalize on the easy access to the water for both planned field studies as well as spur ofthe moment investigation."
The building has a 5,933-square-foot floor plan, with a state-of-the-art wet lab, two indoor classrooms and a covered outdoor classroom.
Shields added, "The outdoor classroom will provide an area where students who have just come in from a kayak trip or field studies on boats provided by Freedom Boat Club can examine specimens."
The project was lead-funded by the Moore family, with additional funding from Ken Keating and Dr. Betty O'Dell. The building also features an ocean basin map on the floor, where students will be able to "walk the currents" while they study ocean circulation.
Historically, in marine science, conventional teaching embodies the use of slides, pictures, texts and classroom experiments.
The center offers something better, as senior Cristina Antonijuan said: "I think it's hard to really get a grasp on all the sea life because we only see them on power points. Having an entire area dedicated to learning about such a vast area will really help!"
The students recognize the need for a more interactive education, one which exposes them to organisms in their natural environment, rather than in secondhand, pictures.
Senior J.T. Lund said, "As a marine bio student, I'm a little bit jealous of those who will experience this facility in the coming years."