NASA / Wikimedia Commons
Students of Peekskill Middle School’s environmental club recently took a journey under the sea without even leaving their classroom—through a live Skype session with third-generation ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau.
Cousteau, the grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, was situated 63 feet beneath the ocean surface off the coast of Key Largo, FL, as part of Mission 31, a 31-day long research endeavor which began on June 1. It is an extension of his grandfather’s exploration by one full day, and he will be delving 30 feet deeper into the water. According to Cousteau’s website, “this will be the first time a mission of this length has taken place in the Aquarius lab, the only underwater marine habitat and lab in the world.” The three main areas of the mission’s research are global warming, ocean pollution, and overconsumption of aquatic natural resources.
Peekskill Middle School was one of several schools along the east coast following Cousteau’s mission as part of its participation in this year’s 20th Anniversary Wheelabrator Symposium for Environment and Education—a four-day long event in South Florida featuring Cousteau as a keynote speaker. Peekskill Middle School has participated in the event for the past 20 years, and this year students presented their research on the effects of development and urbanization on the Hudson River.
Fabien Cousteau, grandson of famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, addresses an environmental club at Peekskill Middle School.
Only six of the 14 participating schools at the symposium were able to have a live Skype chat with Cousteau while on Mission 31, and faculty advisor Scott Tabone was able to quickly secure a spot for Peekskill.
Students were finally ready to get a glimpse of life under the sea at their final club meeting of the year as they sat in front of a projector reading over questions they had prepared themselves. Soon enough, Cousteau appeared on screen with fellow mission scientist and recent MIT graduate Grace Young.
“Here we are at the bottom of the sea,” Cousteau started off. “Welcome!”
“Fish area always photobombing our Skypes,” Young joked, as students viewed the numerous fish swimming by on screen.
Liz Damiano, an art teacher and faculty co-advisor for the environmental club, noted how opportunities such as the Skype session don’t come along in traditional classrooms. The environmental club, which she described as “student-centered,” meets after school, so student members are fully invested in the group and want to learn about the various ways they can contribute to a healthier environment. Damiano sees her role as a way to learn along with her students, resulting in a program that is rewarding on both levels.
“I was learning about different species in the river, I was learning about estuaries, and I was learning about the effects of pollution on our water quality,” Damiano said about the club’s most recent research endeavors. “I’m learning with the kids, and it’s always good to learn more.”
Students also gain experience and environmental awareness by being in the club, as they are able to conduct independent research on topics they care about.
“My favorite part was the responsibility and self-confidence that I gained from being in the club,” said seventh-grader Mya Guardino. “I was able to learn things outside of the classroom because I was able to do research on my own.”
Students in the club feel that they can make a difference, Guardino explained, by understanding the ways development and pollution impact the Hudson. Damiano described their enthusiasm as an “ah-ha” moment for herself as a teacher.
“It’s interesting because we’re teaching them this, but the kids really care about it,” she said. “They really care about future generations and when they have children and grandchildren, and how the environment really affects our world.”