Thursday, January 12, 2017

Evolution: From camper to counselor to intern to marine biologist

By Bridget Kubis Prescott, director of education

When we talk about inspiring the next generation of Bay stewards here at Save The Bay, we mean helping today’s youth understand the importance of a healthy Narragansett Bay, so they’ll take action to protect it throughout their lives, or stand up against action that will harm it. For some students, that means not littering, picking up their pet’s waste and being thoughtful about what goes down their local storm drain. For others, it means developing a passion for environmental causes as part of a larger community. And for Gabriela “Gabby” Morais, it means all of that, plus studying marine biology in college and becoming an inspiration for the generation of Bay stewards that comes after her.

As a student in the AP Environmental Science class at Central Falls High School, Gabby participated in our Narragansett Bay Field Studies program for a year. Save The Bay developed this hands-on, field-based program in collaboration with Central Falls teachers in 2003, and it’s been an integral part of their curriculum ever since.

In the program, students visit Lonsdale Marsh with Save The Bay educators almost weekly during the school year to study the health of that ecosystem. The students are split into small groups that become experts in such environmental health indicators as water quality, macro-invertebrates, vegetation and human impacts. They collect data in the field and bring it back to the classroom to be organized and analyzed, developing leading questions from their data and observations. These questions lead the students to investigate real-world problems in their own communities and to develop possible solutions. At the end of the year, they come together at an ecosystem summit to answer the question — How healthy is your local environment? — and to present ideas on how they can make their community environment better.

The program leads to a week-long summer academy in which these same students continue their learning out on Narragansett Bay, and, thanks to funding from Textron, a paid internship for one promising student. In this first year of the Textron-sponsored internship, that student was Gabby. During her internship with us, Gabby served as a counselor-teacher with our Providence Afterschool Alliance Summer Scholars program and our Junior BayCamp.

Calling her experience “eye opening,” Gabby said, “I really appreciate what my teachers do every day a lot more now because of this internship.” And like many teachers, she found herself in the perfect position to mentor students who needed a little extra help. One middle-schooler in the month-long Providence After School Alliance program was particularly disinterested and distracting to other students. He thought the program was “lame and boring,” Gabby said. Because they came from similar backgrounds and experiences, she felt like she “could help guide him in the right direction and encourage him to try new things” with her experience from the school-year program and her extreme love of the marine environment.

Over the next few days, as these students discovered Narragansett Bay on one of our education vessels, visited Colt State Park, Conimicut Point, and Easton’s Beach and built their own boats, Gabby’s young mentee became really excited about everything. She described his transformation as “incredible to witness” because she had helped make it happen.

One of Gabby’s favorite memories is “seeing the smiles on each and every single one of these kids in our camp. I say this because no matter how much redirection we gave them or the troubled times they might go through, these kids really do put their whole entire heart into this camp. And to me it demonstrated that I am helping the Save The Bay educators do a really super awesome job educating these kids about our Bay.” Or as we like to call it here at Save The Bay — inspiring the next generation of Bay stewards.

The icing on the cake is that Gabby now wants to be a marine biologist. So when it comes to inspiring this future Bay steward … mission accomplished.