Gulf Shores City Schools are exploring new depths this summer and taking education underwater. The coastal city school district is offering students the opportunity to enroll in an after-school scuba …
Gulf Shores City Schools are exploring new depths this summer and taking education underwater.
The coastal city school district is offering students the opportunity to enroll in an after-school scuba diving program. Jessica Sampley, career tech coordinator, said her own passion for scuba diving inspired her to develop the program.
"Growing up, I thought I wanted to be a marine biologist. I was fascinated with the underwater world and got my scuba certification when I turned 18," Sampley said. "I have never dived in the Gulf of Mexico, but it is something I have always wanted to do. I saw a great opportunity for the kids here, so another teacher and I began working on a grant to bring scuba diving to the school."
Sampley said the first grant covered a small group of high school students, but shortly after they were awarded another grant to include fifth-eighth graders, teachers and administrators who were also interested in participating.
The course is currently offered as an extracurricular activity, and the first group of students were certified just last week.
"We meet at the Down Under dive shop in Gulf Shores after school and practice for two or three hours a few times a week over the course of two weeks," Sampley said. "The students practice practical skills, e-learning book portions, in person reviews and hands on skills with equipment. The last step is an all-day trek to Vortex Springs in Florida, where they do three open water dives and another two or three open water dives at Perdido Pass."
Sampley said there are currently eight high school students, 17 middle and elementary school students and six faculty members enrolled in the course.
"The high schoolers who are in the program had to be a part of the sustainability academy and write an essay to apply for the scholarship to enroll," Sampley said. "The middle and elementary schoolers were chosen based off an application. They had to answer questions and submit their grades to be considered."
Sampley said safety knowledge is a big part of the course, and students must work together to complete their dives.
"This is really a cross-curricular opportunity for students," Sampley said. "They are learning how being underwater affects the body, gas narcosis, decompression sickness and how to share air with other students."
Sampley said students will gain their open water certification through the course, allowing them to dive up to 60 feet underwater.
"During certification, the students dive 45 feet in Vortex Springs and 20 feet in the Gulf," Sampley said. "10-12-year-old students only go down 40 feet, but the older kids can go further."
"The kids were a little anxious, but all had experience with the water. Some of the students are surfers and skim boarders, and a couple are interested in marine biology as a career," Sampley said. "One of the graduating seniors who was certified in the first group is planning on pursing marine science at Eckerd College and can utilize her certification for that."
Sampley said while it was hard for some students to wrap their head around being so deep, it was all smiles when they finished the last of their certification at Vortex Springs.
"We still have a few more groups who will be certified throughout this month," Sampley said. "We are hoping to offer this program again in the spring, it is also a great opportunity to connect back to the learning they are doing in the classroom."
Sampley said the students learn more about marine life, coral reef protection and the animals they will encounter on their dives through a required e-learning course.
"Overall, we wouldn't be able to offer this opportunity without grant funds and the teachers, administrators, superintendents and community partners who make this possible," Sampley said. "They are so willing to think outside the box and do something other schools normally wouldn't think to do."