>SEDGE ISLAND EXPERIENCE

>In the living classroom that is the Barnegat Bay, 14 teenagers from across New Jersey arrived last Monday for the maiden voyage of the Sedge Island Summer Field experience.
The kids, nine girls and five boys, took a short boat ride across Barnegat Bay to the Sedge Island Natural Resource Education Center, tucked behind Island Beach State Park, for the weeklong residency program. The state-owned, renovated duck-hunting lodge is equipped with a common room, seven bunkrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, front porch and upper back deck.
“The (36) applications we received were incredibly creative,” said Maria Grace of Conserve Wildlife Foundation, a co-host of the program. “We received journal entries, and some of the things the kids wrote had us laughing out loud.”
The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of N.J. and the N.J. Division of Fish and Wildlife jointly sponsored this newly designed program, which ran from Aug. 9 through Aug 13.
The kids began this journey back in February where the potential students and their families could attend an orientation to learn more about the program and meet the instructors.The innovative program was modeled after similar field experience programs as well as the daily summer programs run at the Sedge Island under witty mentor Jim Merritt, the program director at the Sedge Island.
The opportunity was open to New Jersey students entering grades seven to nine who were interested in exploring New Jersey’s coastal salt marsh ecosystem. Academics were not a factor in the selection criteria.
During their stay, the kids were unplugged from the grid and armed with their own field journals. They got to work directly with biologists, oceanographers and historians while living a conservation lifestyle in the facility, which is completely self-sufficient, with composting toilets, and solar panels that provide electricity.
“It was unique because we brought in different specialists each day,” said Grace. Under the daily supervision of Merritt and interns from the state, the participants were self-propelled to explore the natural and cultural history of Barnegat Bay as well as discuss current environmental issues affecting the bay. They explored the coastal ecosystem with kayaks, using water-testing techniques, seining, clam rakes and myriad scientific tools, including microscopes. Leadership and self-motivation were incorporated into the environmental-based program. Team building and critical thinking were core to the overriding social concepts, which include sustainability and stewardship.
At the culmination of the program, the students turned instructor on the final day when their families came out and got to see first-hand what and how they had learned. As an extension of the experience, students will develop and execute a service-learning project in their home communities.
To learn more about this year’s field experience and follow the blog, or to find out how to apply for the next one, go to conservewildlifenj.org or follow the Sedge Island Facebook page. — Angela Andersenangelaandersen@thesandpaper.net