In November of 2014, teachers and administrators from L.A. Ainger Middle School and Lemon Bay High School visited Wildflower Preserve seeking opportunities for students to use the Preserve for in-depth scientific studies. Accompanied by naturalists Bill Dunson and Dave Clayton, they explored the trails. Within the next few months a commitment was made to create a “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) camp at Wildflower.
On February 3, 2015 an exciting new proposal was introduced by Dominic “Nick” Piscitelli, STEM Curriculum Specialist for Charlotte County Public Schools. Select students from L.A. Ainger and Lemon Bay High School would attend summer science camps at Wildflower Preserve where they would complete their Edison Regional Science Fair projects. They could also participate in exclusive water testing and fish habitat research, giving them an appreciation of the precious waterways where they live. Data collected would be stored at L.A. Ainger and the new LBHS aquaculture lab for all future generations to use.
Teachers Andy Green and Susan Chabot, Principal Marcia Louden, and Vice Principal Michelle Wier, along with Cheryl Tough and Jim Cooper of Lemon Bay Conservancy coordinated and planned the future events. On March 28th, a gathering of staff, students, parents, scientists, sponsors and volunteers met at Wildflower for the initial activities which would lead to the June 9-17th Science STEM camp.
As the June camp began, each student used school computers to identified a topic area for study and developed a research hypothesis. Then, they gathered and analyzed data, drew conclusions, and created presentations. As part of the camp activities, the students also had the opportunity to observe fish research being conducted at Wildflower Preserve and to participate in a kayak trip hosted by Hooked on SUP.
At a banquet on June 19th, the students presented their findings to an audience that included their parents and the camp sponsors. The presentations showed the wide range in their research interests. Examples include: exploring the “ecosystem” within a Washingtonian Palm, investigating linkages between tarpon and dissolved oxygen, studying the impacts of exotic vegetation on surrounding plant species, and assessing how sunlight affects duckweed growth.
A great partnership has been established. Lemon Bay Conservancy and Charlotte County Public Schools as well as Captain Sandy Melvin of Boca Grande Gasparilla Charities have joined together to support this wonderful new STEM research at Wildflower. Capt. Sandy hosts and runs the annual Gasparilla Kids Classic Tarpon Fishing Tournament which will generously sponsor and donate funds to this new and vital project.
A special thanks should go to Nick Piscitelli for his dedication in seeing this project through. Congratulations to all.
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