The best entrepreneurs are the ones who identify a problem in the world and can efficiently and economically find a viable solution. At their core, entrepreneurs are willing to engage with their community and take on innovative and creative projects. As we raise and educate our future leaders, sparking that interest becomes crucial, especially as you consider the many issues our world faces today. Saint Mark’s Episcopal School, a K-8 school in South Florida, hopes to become a catalyst for these innovators with the launch of their SeaLab, an immersive STEM educational experience.
Saint Mark’s announced the opening of SeaLab, a first-of-its-kind in STEM experiential learning that aims to allow students to learn and test solutions to address the global water and sustainability issues we face today. SeaLab is a 20-by-20-foot, manufactured tidal pool behind a seawall on a river basin with a twice daily two-to-three-foot tidal surge. Developed with the help of Brizaga, a multi-disciplinary civil and coastal engineering firm, holes were drilled in the wall separating the river from the tidal pool to allow water and sea life to flow naturally in and out with the tides. An internal dock structure helps students access the water to conduct experiments in addition to specifically designed holes in the seawall that allow for flow instrumentation and other tools to be attached.
Dr. Spencer, Head of School at Saint Mark’s, shared, “We believe it has never been done because often people do not think of these students as capable of solving complex community problems. But the problem is not the capacity of their mind; it is because they are limited by experiences. Young minds can think out of the box in unique ways and, when given the opportunity, can truly amaze you.”
Students partaking in the SeaLab will be as young as five years old. Partnerships with other local schools and universities mean high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students will also utilize the facility. The curriculum is being developed in conjunction with Nova Southeastern University Halmos College of Arts and Sciences and Guy Harvey Oceanographic Research Center, as well as the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
Dr. Taintor adds, “Students will learn how to engineer effective barriers to sea level rise and tidal flooding, water quality and how to measure it, identification of microplastics and their sources as well as forever chemicals. Our partnerships with the Universities will enable the curriculum to reflect current research at the university level, which means our students can start at a young age and continue all the way through graduate studies should they choose that path.”
While the students who experience the SeaLab may naturally lean toward careers in marine biology or the marine industry, the school believes it will lead to so much more than that.
“As a Head of School, an entrepreneur, and an educator, I have always wondered why we saddle students with global problems for which they have little to no ability to see, touch, or witness their efforts making a difference. In my experience, the long-term effect for adults is learned helplessness as they fail to act locally or nationally to solve community challenges. Things such as sustainability, homelessness, and water quality, become too large-scale to address. We wanted to give students a tool that inspired them to see challenges as opportunities,” shared Dr. Taintor.
The students are equally as excited as the educators to jump in to start using the SeaLab. Water is a way of life for these young South Florida residents. They have grown up swimming, boating, and fishing; some even see marine life right from their own backyard or school. Manatees often drop by the Saint Mark’s campus to say hello. Dr. Taintor added, “Water is a natural wonder full of unexpected experiences for our students. They feel an attraction to protect it. Whether it be turtles or manatees, they want to find ways to protect these marine creatures. If that means finding ways to limit microplastics, they’re all in to find a solution to this and many other problems surrounding our community.”
SeaLab has the potential beyond just educating the students at Saint Mark’s. The school can help develop the next generation of science teachers through the partnership with Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Taintor shares, “Education majors can partner with our science teachers to design and implement labs around SeaLab, giving them hands-on experience in immersive experiential learning, which can be very rewarding to first-time teachers.”
This is also an opportunity for Saint Mark’s to set the standard and be a model for other communities on how to engage and empower students in their respective communities at an early age. Dr. Taintor shares, “SeaLab hopes to encourage students to be solution makers rather than just problem observers, thus seeding the skills needed to be the next great innovative entrepreneurs.”