JanTerm and the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge

As a teacher at a fantastic school, I get the opportunity to do some pretty cool things. This past week was no exception. The Westminster Schools (high school only) decided last year to implement a January term; a three week learning experience for students to explore concepts that they normally wouldn’t be exposed to during the regular classes. Teachers were requested to design courses that were interdisciplinary, with focuses on meeting people, traveling, and interactive hands-on activities. Classes include The Science of Cooking, Biotechnology, DIY Culture, Sports Medicine, Entrepreneurship, Journalism, and my favorite class: Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast.

51QQKSS3BALThe class I teach (Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast) was designed to introduce students to the science of coastal habitats like salt marshes, estuaries, maritime forests, and barrier islands. Within this context students learned about the local people and culture (the Gullah-Geechee) by visiting museums, talking to locals, and reading God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man By Cornelia Walker Bailey (a Gullah-Geechee woman that still lives on Sapelo Island, Georgia).

The highlight of this class is a week-long field trip to Skidaway Island and the UGA marine extension service. While there, students were able to interact with the communities they were introduced to in the classroom. They explored biodiversity, learned about the animals and plants, got their hands dirty, and explored.

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Sampling invertebrates off the dock at the marine extension service.

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Tromping through the salt marsh exploring and getting muddy.

 

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Under the Pier at Tybee Island.

 

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View from above the pier at Tybee Island.

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At the Pinpoint Museum, a Gullah-Geechee facility near Skidaway Island.

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Learning how to make a crab net from a Gullah-Geechee man at Pinpoint.

The week culminated in a trip to Wassaw Island, part of the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge. Wassaw Island is a protected and undeveloped barrier island. People are allowed to visit without any permits, but no boats are allowed to stay docked or ashore and there is no overnight camping. Because of this, the island is pristine. The maritime forest is on its way to developing a climax community of live oak trees, alligators wander around in the holes they have dug for the winter, the wrack on the beach harbors little crabs, the birds stretch out in large flocks, and the beach is littered with shells and driftwood. There is not a footprint in sight.

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So, thanks to my school for making this happen. I can only hope that my students understand the opportunity they have been given to enjoy and interact with nature! I truly believe that experiences like these can shape people and help make them better stewards of the earth.

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2 thoughts on “JanTerm and the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge

  1. How wonderful Randi. Makes me sad to not be on the trip too. As I read your discriptions of the trip, I wondered, also, what you wrote at the end – ‘do these students fully know what they are experiencing?’ What a fabulous treat.

    • I really hope they do understand. It might be that at this point in their lives its just another trip with friends where they get to go to some cool places. In the future maybe they’ll be able to understand why their experiences are so important. Georgia has done a great job protecting its coastline from development, but not all states have. Imagine that vision of a natural, undeveloped barrier island in the head of the environmental lawyer or developer that our students will become… it could make a huge difference for our natural spaces!

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