Young Stewards Explore Science on Stamford’s Coast

A walk in Cove Island Park is often accompanied by the echoes of laughter and excitement of children. Nestled on the water’s edge is the SoundWaters Coastal Education Center, a hub for scientific exploration and learning since 1990. Through workforce development and after-school learning programs, SoundWaters has fostered a community of young scientists from Stamford and area schools with a deep sense of ownership over the Sound and its waters. The week of April 15–19 was a busy time for the education center, as it hosted two student learning programs.

Empowering Future Women in Stem

Fifteen years ago, local educators recognized the need for an inclusive science space for young girls to get hands-on in labs. That’s when Science Stars was born, a week-long introductory science program for girls in grades 2-5. This year, 65 girls from the Stamford public school district were grouped into three teams—the Perceptive Periwinkles, Motivated Mussels, and Curious Cormorants. Team names were crafted to inspire active learning while tying into the different focus areas for each team. During the week, the Periwinkles studied beach habitats, the Mussels looked at salt marshes, and the Cormorants concentrated on birding and plant life.

The girls’ favorite activity was seining, a method of fishing using a large net that hangs vertically in the water.

“They get super excited about it,” said Autumn Lauria, an educator at SoundWaters. “Some of our repeated Science Stars are able to actually identify some of the most common animals in the Sound.”

One of those students is Annabella, a fifth grader who joined Science Stars for a third time this year with dreams of becoming a marine biologist.

“SoundWaters is fun,” Anabella said. “We get to go out in the water and put waders on.”

Another repeat student, Genesis, a fourth grader, developed a love for marine life through SoundWaters’ summer programs. She has ambitions to become both a marine biologist and zoologist when she grows up.

“I love how we get to interact with science and animals,” Genesis said. “Toadfish are my favorite because they have no scales and feel really soft.”

In addition to seining, the girls also heard presentations from female professionals in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), decorated sea shells, built strength chains, and went out on SoundWaters’ teaching vessel, a replica of an 18th century schooner. The education center was founded on the ship, which can be seen sailing with school students from April to November on Long Island Sound.

A Deeper Dive Into the Science

Building on the success of Science Stars, a new program ran during the same week titled Long Island Sound Week, or LIS Week, where otherwise unfamiliar high school students were invited to dip their toes into environmental research. While many likely spent their April vacation catching up on rest or spending time with friends, a group of ten teens were on site at the Cohen SoundWaters Harbor Center.

Carly, a junior at Greenwich High School, was recommended to attend LIS Week by her marine biology teacher.

“Why not do something that I love?” she said. “I work part-time at the Maritime Aquarium and have always enjoyed going to the beach.”

Carly partnered up with Reagan, a sophomore student at Darien High School, for a research activity that tasked students with marking the age of harvested mussels by counting the rings on their shells. After writing down predictions, students then bleached the shells to get a clearer view of the lines and a more accurate age estimate. In addition to research, the LIS Week program included getting out in the field. Strapped up in waders, students participated in a Bio Blitz making records of observed birds, plants, and wildlife in and around the Sound.

“We want to introduce students to the Long Island Sound natural resource as widely as possible,” said Leigh Shemitz, president of SoundWaters. “And we do everything we can to create that access and opportunity.”

Since 2006, the Long Island Sound Study has provided over $138,000 in grant funding for SoundWaters projects through the Long Island Sound Futures Fund.

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