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Saint Mark’s: South Florida K-8 School Disrupting STEM Education with SeaLab Launch

Exposing students to STEM education can set them on a path of educational and professional success. But piquing the interest of young minds and keeping them engaged can often be a struggle. One K-8 school based in South Florida is looking to make a splash when it comes to STEM education. Saint Mark’s Episcopal School announced the launch of their SeaLab, a 20-by-20-foot tidal pool that floods daily with the rising of tides and allows students to identify, test, and discover real-world solutions to waterway and marine life issues.

Aiming to disrupt the traditional educational experience, SeaLab is a first-of-its-kind in STEM experiential learning that allows these young scientists, some as young as five, to explore sea level rise, water quality, marine habitats, hydroelectricity, microplastics, forever chemicals (PFAS) and more. “SeaLab was designed to make students solution makers rather than just observers. They will work side-by-side with our university partners from Nova Southeastern University Halmos College of Arts and Sciences and Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center, as well as faculty from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science to engage in learning modules and STEM experiments,” shared Dr. Spencer Taintor, Head of School at Saint Mark’s. “Students too often lack experiences in the classroom that demonstrate how their ideas and solutions can make an impact in their community. This can make them begin to feel problems are too big for them to address. But if we can break issues down into smaller, more digestible issues to tackle, we reframe their young minds to be action takers.”

South Florida is a recreation hub for water-related activities, making it important that students learn how to preserve and enjoy the natural resources of their home. The school is located on the Middle River waterway, a key habitat for marine growth, manatees, young fish stock, and was once a thriving oyster bed. The area has seen a decrease in water quality due to runoff, plastics, and general pollution. SeaLab aims to take students out of the classroom and onto the water to expose them to these problems facing their community. The young scientist will be given not just the knowledge around the issue, but also the tools to help solve them.

Created and designed with the help of Brizaga, a multi-disciplinary civil and coastal engineering firm, SeaLab was brought to life through the spirit of collaboration. Dr. Taintor and the Brizaga team envisioned creating a space in which students could build and test their own seawalls. What transpired was an immersive educational experience that would inspire the next generation of sustainability leaders.

Learning to solve problems plays a huge role in shaping students to become future innovators and the school hopes its new curriculum will do just that. Dr. Taintor shared, “Students will get first-hand experiences in dealing with real-world problems that impact their local community. They will be taught at the SeaLab, but also encouraged to reach out beyond the school to local companies and government agencies to explore, research, and gain difference perspectives. Our goal is to find solutions for waterway issues, but more importantly teach students to be action takers and problem solvers.”

SeaLab is only the beginning of a journey to disrupt STEM education. Inspired by the NSU Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center, Saint Mark’s is currently designing and engineering wet labs to support the SeaLab. Dr. Taintor shared, “What we have learned from our partnerships is that our students will need additional tools to help them in their pursuits. The wet labs will do that while allowing our partners, industry professionals, graduate and undergraduate students, and other local schools to participate in the SeaLab experience.”

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