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Island School Outreach is building future conservation leaders in The Bahamas

By Anshena Johnson, 30th November 2020

The Bahamas is well known for its picturesque beaches with crystal clear blue waters. Furthermore, the archipelago is celebrated for its rich culture and most importantly the vibrant people that inhabit the island nation. The marine ecosystem surrounding The Bahamas is vital to these communities, as it provides coastal protection, habitat for a variety of marine life, jobs, and income to local economies through fishing, recreation, and tourism. Research shows the condition of the marine environment in  the region has changed drastically over the past four decades and is well documented to be in a state of decline.

Students from South Eleuthera participate in their virtual classes at the Cape Eleuthera Island School campus. Photo © Candice Brittain.

Island School Outreach’s work supports the next generation of conservation leaders in The Bahamas. We create opportunities for research collaboration between students and scientists, immersing children in their surrounding natural habitats. During programming, youth gain exposure to their nearby ecosystems and build an understanding of local conservation challenges.  As such, participants can choose to take conservation actions and advocate for environmental stewardship in their communities. In addition, we provide academic support with targeted literacy interventions to support children’s reading growth. During all of our programming, we provide nutritional food for participants.

This Spring, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted our ability to deliver programming as we had originally designed it. We pivoted our work to respond to the needs of the students we serve locally during these turbulent times. All schools in The Bahamas were mandated to close in March and government schools remain closed indefinitely. In March, Island School Outreach committed to providing remote tutoring and support for our program participants to encourage students to stay engaged with their academics. We purchased 60 tablets with Internet data for students to be able to continue their education remotely. In addition, we have provided at-home educational resources to the students we work with including books, worksheets, pens, pencils, math kits, and art supplies.

Image © Google Maps | Google

Strict lockdown and stay at home orders were issued in The Bahamas in March and remained in place until late August. As unemployment rates and food insecurity increased, our team shifted our focus in May to purchase and coordinate the distribution of food for 43 households in our local community, reaching 195 individuals at risk of hunger due to the COVID-19 crisis. We continued this effort through the spring and summer until we were able to transition our efforts to support the National Food Distribution Task Force by assisting families to register for government food vouchers.

As an independent organisation, we had the flexibility to provide learning space for children in our community once restrictive orders were lifted. In the first week of November, we launched small-group, in-person programming for students in South Eleuthera following strict COVID-19 protocols. Children had access to our campus, a stable Wi-Fi connection to participate in their online learning, in-person support from teachers to remain engaged in school academics, and nutritional lunch and snacks each day.

Children in South Eleuthera receive more at-home educational resources, including art supplies to encourage opportunities for creativity. Photo © Candice Brittain.

During scheduled class breaks, children made the most of our campus by exploring outdoors and connecting with nature. Some of our favourite activities included beach adventures, visiting our farm and touring our wet-lab to learn about our current research at the Cape Eleuthera Institute.

On Sunday 8th November, the Prime Minister announced further restrictions for the island of Eleuthera, where we are based, prohibiting in-person educational instruction. We remain flexible to continue to reach and engage our students through a variety of models including virtual, hybrid or in-person instruction as circumstances change. We are committed to supporting the families and students we serve in our local community. As soon as circumstances allow, we will be ready to welcome students back to our campus to participate in their academics, connect with their local environment and commence afternoon swim classes!

During scheduled breaks from distance learning children explore our campus and connect with nature! During our afternoon break, Aaliyah had a lot of questions about the seaweed that had washed up on shoreline so we had an impromptu lesson to learn more about the brown macroalgae, sargassum. Photo © Candice Brittain.

In the future, Island School Outreach aims to lead three weeks of environmentally focused experiential learning for students in Grade 7, 8 and 9 in collaboration with Cape Eleuthera Institute researchers. This program takes students outside, beyond the four walls of a traditional school and “into the field.” This immersive experience provides experiential, place-based learning focused on the island of Eleuthera and our surrounding ecosystems. The extended time spent out of the classroom is focused on grade level themes and developing new skills, such as snorkelling and SCUBA diving. Sessions cover a wider array of content including marine research and conservation, sustainability, youth advocacy and environmental stewardship.

At the end of the three weeks, students will share and celebrate their learning with the larger South Eleuthera community through an evening of Presentations of Learning. This is a powerful moment for students, as their projects are often focused on student advocacy for an environmental issue. Our belief is that through student advocacy we are not only able to build student leadership and communication skills, we are also spreading current scientific information and creating an opportunity for people to take action within their communities. By learning more about our work we hope you are as inspired by the next generation of leaders in The Bahamas as we are!

Students toured our wet lab at Cape Eleuthera Institute and were very curious about the shark suckers, exclaiming that they look like aliens! Photo © Candice Brittain.

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