Secrets Of The Sound Revealed
by Melissa Bailey | Jul 30, 2012 12:50 pm
Posted to: Environment, Schools, City Point
Students stared into the eyes of a 2-foot summer flounder, as they explored the mysteries of the New Haven Harbor—and got a taste of life at the city’s top-performing high school.
The discoveries took place Thursday aboard the Island Rover boat as 180 students entered the third week of a hands-on, science-rich summer camp run by the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center on City Point.
The free summer camp, called A Sound Summer Exploring Aquaculture, has two goals: To reduce the racial isolation that separates suburban and urban kids, and to recruit students for the lesser-known, marine-themed high school. The state-funded camp serves students who have completed 6th, 7th and 8th grades. They come from New Haven and seven surrounding towns to navigate, study and explore the marine environment.
Last Thursday morning, in a calm patch between rainstorms, about 20 students headed out on the Sound School’s Island Rover, a 51-foot Chesapeake “deadrise” research vessel that’s parked at the school’s harborside pier.
Jose Mendoza, who’s 13 and lives on Goffe Street, climbed down a ladder onto a floating dock leading to the boat. Heading to the 8th grade at the LW Beecher Museum School of Arts & Sciences, Jose’s in his second year at the summer camp. He joined kids from West Haven, North Haven and beyond on a mission to explore the benthic zone, the lowest zone of water on the bottom of Morris Cove.
Students tossed overboard a funnel-shaped net called an otter trawl and dragged it on the bottom of the harbor floor.
“The net is fishing!” called out Conor Pickering to Captain Bob Boulware. Conor, who’s going to be a sophomore at Sound, volunteered as a mate aboard the Island Rover to earn credits towards graduation at Sound.
As the net dragged, Elan Silver of Westville reeled in buckets of water to fill a touch tank. Word buzzed around the boat on what Thursday’s catch would be: A striped bass? A razor-armed manta shrimp? Or a rare sand shark?
Students pulled in the net in two teams. Joshua Moore (pictured), who’s 14, led the crew on the port side.
Moore, who lives in the Edgewood neighborhood, wants to be in the U.S. Coast Guard. He hadn’t been exposed to most of the marine activities at Sound, so he “decided to take a chance at it.” That was last year. He returned this year for more, and got the chance to sail across the harbor to the new Q Bridge, to Lighthouse Point, and out to a breaker in the Long Island Sound.
Mate Conor brought in the net full of marine life and emptied it into a touch tank.
Jack Walsh, who’s been teaching at Sound School for 13 years, explained what they’d dragged up from the bottom of the Sound. The net brought in a 2-foot flounder, also known as a fluke. It’s a winter flounder, he explained, because its eyes are on the right side of its face. Walsh also pointed out several porgies, a blackfish, summer flounders (eyes on the left side), and a calico crab.
“What can you eat?” asked one student, an avid fisherman. You can keep and eat porgies and flounder if they’re big enough, came the answer—but not today.
Thursday, most of the catch went back in the drink.
Before the fish were set free, Jose Mendoza took a moment to touch one of the smaller flounder. He ran a finger from the tail to the mouth—another test to differentiate between summer and winter. Summer flounder have smooth skin.
Jose was one of just a half-dozen city kids aboard the boat Thursday. One-third of the students in the camp, 59 out of 179, hail from New Haven this year.
“That’s much lower than we’d like to see,” said Rebecca Gratz, Sound School’s new principal. The school aims to raise the New Haven-suburban ratio to 50-50.
Returning students are given first dibs for seats at next year’s camp. From there, enrollment in open seats is first come, first served by town. Half of open seats go to new students from New Haven, if enough come forward to fill them. The remaining seats are divided between the other towns: East Haven, Cheshire, North Haven, West Haven, Hamden, Guilford, North Branford/Northford. There are three levels of classes, so kids can return three years in a row and complete the curriculum.
Sound School is ranked in the top-performing Tier I in the city’s new grading system. Even as the top-performing high school, it still managed to lead the pack in improvement on test scores this year.
Gratz said she hopes more New Haven kids learn about the free camp and take the chance to see if Sound School is the right fit for them.
After putting the fish back in the water, Jose said the camp has let him explore a lot of things he’s never done before. His favorite part, he said, is the “creativity” of it all.
He was asked if he’s considering Sound School for his freshman year in 2013.
“I’m thinking about it,” he said.
Back on shore, dozens more kids got to explore that idea in classroom, workshops, and out on the street, where a math teacher led first-year campers through an orienteering scavenger hunt.
In George Baldwin’s science lab, Carissa Ciarlone of Cheshire helped tag a horseshoe crab as part of a study being performed by Sacred Heart University. Principal Gratz quizzed the kids on what they’d learned so far. How many years has the animal gone unchanged?
“Two-hundred and fifty million years!” came the answer. The organisms are now harvested for eel bait and for a protein used to test pharmaceutical products, Baldwin said. So the Sound School is tagging them to help Sacred Heart scientists track the population.
In another classroom, Wilmerrys Ramos wrapped pink thread around a fishing rod to attach a guide. Wilmerrys, who’s 12 and lives in the Hill neighborhood, said the camp gave the chance to try out sailing for the first time. The kids will use the rods in a fishing expedition, and keep them when they go home next week.
In a garage, Sterling McDowell-Hagans (at left in photo with Joshua Rodriguez), 11, concentrated quietly on his task for the week—building a lobster pot. A 7th grader at Elm City College Prep Middle School, he said he had learned a ton so far, including the history of the harbor, the parts of a boat, and how to navigate the sea.
The program, founded in 1995, is funded by a $180,000 grant from the state passed through the city Board of Education. The seven participating suburban school districts pay $3,000 each for their kids to participate. Due to budget cuts, it has slimmed down over the years from a 5-week, $350,000 program to the current three-week version.
The program employs 42 non-administrative staff, including 11 certified teachers, many of whom work at the Sound School. Summer camp completers often return as program assistants, earning minimum wage. Sound School students and alums, some post-college, return to take part in the annual rite.
On a given day, there are between two and seven field trips, including canoeing expeditions and visits to the Norwalk Aquarium, according to Megan Koonze, a Sound School English teacher who has taken charge of the summer program.
The program highlights the best parts of Sound School’s curriculum, said Principal Gratz.
“It’s all hands-on, all interactive,” she said. “If only we could always do all of school like that.”
The third-year program culminates in an overnight trip to Deer Lake in Killingworth, where kids sleep in lean-tos, some of them exploring camping for the first time.
For camper Shannonmarie Kripps, the program will ease the transition to high school. The 14-year-old from Fair Haven learned how to row, sail, and identify marine organisms this summer. She plans to return in the fall as a freshman at Sound.
Shannonmarie said she already has an idea of what she’d like to do after high school: “I want to be a marine biologist.”
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Under our increasingly conservative state and Federal government - both Republican and Democrat - all of these great programs are going to be cut.
The main reason they will be cut is so that millionaires can purchase more yachts, leave a larger share of their cash hoardings to their offspring, and continue to receive the mortgage interest tax deduction on their second and third homes (yes, our country’s largest subsidy programs primarily benefit the wealthy).
Lets hope these students learn to vote, so they can turn things around.
Its not a program its a school run by the city of New Haven