Aquarium Scholar grant recipients give back in a big way

Published 11:59 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

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Perquimans Central School students have donated $2,000 to the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center at the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island for the past two years. Second-grade teacher Laura Duncan guides the students in creating beaded bracelets that they sell to support sea turtles. Though Duncan purchases the supplies, credit for this fantastic feat goes to the students who contribute their enthusiasm.

Duncan began her Save The Sea Turtle initiative while she taught in South Carolina. The interested students were hooked on sea turtles after watching a video of a nest hatching. After relocating to North Carolina, she began to bring the sea turtle journey to her Perquimans second-grade students. The Aquarium Scholars grant program has played an essential role in this project. She says the financial support to visit the aquarium allows students who may never have left their county to “experience the coastal environment, and to see the animals and species of the Aquarium. This opens their eyes to learning more about animals, helping to conserve and care for our world – and they can build background knowledge of species and habitats. It is the platform for learning when we return – we’ve had the shared experience, and it makes all the difference!”

The program Duncan and her students have created is comprehensive. It starts with the aquarium visit in March, where the students see the STAR Center. In the classroom, “we immerse ourselves in learning about sea turtles and their plight in our natural world. We then start making sea turtle bracelets to sell to the school community. The students do it all. In addition to creating the bracelets, the class makes commercials for the school news, works on marketing, and produces sea turtle books, pamphlets, magnets, and a website.” The project is completed with a virtual meeting with sea turtle expert Dr. Stephen Dunbar from Loma Linda University. The students can interview Dunbar as he gives updates on his projects.

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Throughout recounting this fantastic work, Duncan paused to reflect on the opportunities the Aquarium Scholars grant has given her students. She encourages other teachers in Title 1 schools to apply. “The application is simple – it’s easy to describe why our students need the experiences to build background knowledge in so many areas. Teachers can be advocates for their students by applying for the grants. It’s an incredible opportunity.”

The Aquarium Scholars grant program is funded by the N.C. Aquarium Society. “Since the program started in 2018, we’ve been able to connect over 12,000 North Carolina students from 78 counties with the amazing education experiences offered by the three Aquariums and Jennette’s Pier at little to no cost to the school,” said N.C. Aquarium Society communications manager Colleen Shytle. “Regardless of the school’s proximity to the coast, learning opportunities are available that are relevant and accessible to engage students. We’re thrilled that Aquarium Scholars has had such an impact on Ms. Duncan’s students and are grateful for our donors, who make these grants possible.”