BY JACK SHORT – Lemon Bay Conservancy and Boca Grande Charities, Inc, recently announced a joint effort to help some local middle and high school students prepare for biological research and field work.
BGC, which runs the annual Gasparilla Island Kids’ Classic youth tarpon fishing tournament and which has, for four years, been a voice for conservation, will donate approximately $10,000 to fund a two week STEM summer program, according to Marcia Lowden, principal of L.A. Ainger Middle School. The program will enable students to participate in the overall study and restoration efforts that have been taking place at Wildflower Preserve – an “outdoor laboratory,” as she said. The preserve is owned by the Lemon Bay Conservancy trust and is the site of a massive project to study and restore the land, which was once a golf course but had been long since abandoned.
The remaining cost of funding the $21,000 program was divided evenly between L.A. Ainger Middle School and Lemon Bay High School, according to Lowden. She said L.A. Ainger used the remainder of a five-year Gulf Coast Community Foundation grant to pay for its share.
The costs include coverage for materials and after-hours student-teacher interaction throughout the year.
L.A. Ainger Middle School students had previously participated in tagging and cleanup efforts at Wildflower Preserve during the initial phase of an ongoing tarpon study there, though Lowden said this program would be more expansive. It will be a springboard, she said, to continued work with teachers throughout the year and will culminate in their annual science fair.
“We’re going to prepare kids at this level to work in a lab setting, in environmental labs at high schools,” said Lowden. “This is just the beginning.”
The program was conceived in February, 2014, with staff from Lemon Bay High and L.A. Ainger.
STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – programs are part of a recent nationwide push to prepare students for science and engineering jobs. Four teachers, Susan Chabot and Jenee Mora from LBHS, and Andrea Green and Natalia Shea from L.A. Ainger will be the backbone of the program.
A dozen students from L.A. Ainger and another dozen from LBHS will participate in the camp, and a standout student will be chosen to receive a $1,000 educational scholarship named after local conservationist Elsie Bracken, according to Sandy Melvin, a member of the BGC board. Bracken is and has been an outspoken environmentalist for many years.
All entry fees, after captains’ fees, from Boca Grande Charity’s annual tournament are donated to charity, he said. Over the last four years, according to Melvin, they donated approximately $120,000 to charities such as Moffitt Cancer Center and All Children’s Hospital. They have also supported the Englewood Community Care Clinic, which provides primary care for the working poor locally, and the Crowninshield House, an island organization that awards scholarships to local youth.
Melvin said the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation will provide promotional consideration and some merchandise.
“Support of the STEM program is a natural fit with one of the basic concepts of the BGC Gasparilla Island Kids’ Classic tarpon tournament – that is, helping kids,” said Bill Klettke, a BGC board member who has worked for many years in the educational field. “We are pleased to provide the majority of the funding for this initial summer program with Lemon Bay Conservancy and look forward to both its success and expansion.”
Melvin, speaking on behalf of BGC, said they were proud to be able to sponsor the STEM program on behalf of the kids who fish in the tournament each year. He added that they were happy to join Lemon Bay Conservancy in its stewardship of the lands and resources that serve as nurseries and habitats for the tarpon that eventually make their way to passes and gulf waters. The conservation of that resource is the primary focus of their effort.
“We’re partnering with the school system,” said Melvin, “to respect it, understand it, and protect it.”