Boothbay Sea and Science Center could not be stopped from celebrating its eighth summer program. Though there were no family cookout Fridays or tooling around in the turnabouts, 27 children participated in BSSC’s first virtual program and 12 staff were brought back to help manage the program and further their own marine educations.
BSSC Executive Director Pauline Dion said changing to a virtual platform had a learning curve and not having hands-on learning was a let-down, but kids and staff all helped one another make the best of the situation.
“You've got to do your part in keeping everybody safe. So, we decided the best choice for us this year was to go virtual … I think it was a win … One of the things we realized is that we were able to reach kids in other parts of the country who we wouldn't otherwise reach.”
The program covered aquaculture, lobstering and the fisheries, climate change, marine technology and marine debris. Instead of the boating experience BSSC provides in every year’s program, students learned about shipbuilding and maritime history, storytelling, sailing and boating, navigation, weather and rigging.
“We created a knot tying board that we sent out to all the kids so they could have a trophy of sorts. As we did the knots, they added it to their board. It was a real treat.”
Dion said younger students received seaweed specimens in the mail to do a seaweed pressing assignment. Older students learned about the effects of microfibers in the ocean by putting a piece of polyester or fleece in a jar with water, shaking it and filtering the water for the microfibers stripped from the fabric which they viewed in microscopes.
BSSC staff, typically college-aged and learning marine sciences or watercraft-based professions, got to learn about sailing and power-boating, and visit some of the local shipbuilders and aquaculture programs like Washburn and Doughty, Nat Wilson Sailmaker, Mook Sea Farms and Boothbay Harbor Shipyard. Dion said because some of the staff are studying small vessel operations, being able to tour places like that is important.
“It's all possible because all these individuals gave us their time freely and generously. And it was a good example of being resilient and adaptable and not giving up … We were able to continue to provide those opportunities for our staff and in a very different way. I'm thrilled we could do that, that they came and they left with more than they came with. And that's exciting.”
Dion said she is hopeful staff will return next year for an eight-week, in-person program, unless the state mandates BSSC to remain remote. Programming will be based on students’ and staffs’ interests, will include most of this summer’s topics, have hands-on boating onsite and some virtual elements. “We're looking forward to bringing in some kids next summer – just how many and what age group, we haven't decided, (but) we’re anticipating some of these guidelines will be in place for sure next summer.”
BSSC is planning ahead by using a large, well ventilated classroom at Ocean Point Marina and two outside tents. Dion said registration opens Jan. 11.
Dion said everyone learned something this summer and made the best of an unfortunate situation. “We didn't bail this year, you know? We really got through it. We were apprehensive at first like everyone else, but I have phenomenal staff and they made it happen … Everyone hung in there … For every downside, there is an upside. We found the upside.”