Zaidyn Trevion, 10, who is a fourth grade student at Jackson-Roosevelt Elementary, gently and quietly lowered a net into the marsh beneath the Formosa Wetlands Walkway Friday in the hopes of catching a blue crab.
Trevion’s and his classmates’ hopes were fulfilled when Caitlyn Jennings, community outreach specialist with the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Golden Crescent helped students lift the net to find a large crab furiously opening and closing its claws within as it tried to scurry out.
Trevion, along with 403 other fourth grade students from Calhoun and Victoria county schools, participated in a three-day event at Lighthouse Beach Park for Junior Marine Exploration Week sponsored by the museum.
Aloe Elementary and F.W. Gross Elementary were at the park on Wednesday. On Thursday, students from Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic School of Port Lavaca, and Torres Elementary School and Trinity Episcopal School, both in Victoria, went through three stations dedicated to marine life including a beach, a marsh and a crabbing station.
Marcy King, who is a fourth grade homeroom teacher at OLG, and who teaches seventh grade Texas History and eighth grade science, was glad her students could take a field trip close to home.
“We are going to do marine activities. We will learn about the marsh, and the beach environment doing some seining out there, and we will study about the different kinds of crabs we have in our area,” King said. “Usually when we do our marine studies, we go to Palacios. But we’ve been there so many years through first through fourth grade. This is good because it is so close. It is different, too.”
King brought 16 OLG students to the park on Thursday.
“I am hoping they will learn the food chain in the marine environment. I think they know a lot about the beach and its organisms, but I don’t think they know too much about the marsh, so I am hoping they will understand the difference between the beach and the marsh and how important the marsh is as a nursery,” King said.
Iliana Lara, 9, of Port Lavaca, and an OLG student, wanted to learn about crabs and the marsh.
“We come to this beach every once in a while. I like to build sandcastles here. My family walks out to the pavilion, and we see some birds out there. It’s important to know what’s out there so I will take better care of it,” Lara said.
Tanya Wilkinson, who is education coordinator for the museum, said Junior Marine Exploration Week is a field trip opportunity for fourth graders to be out in the field learning about science.
“We are partners with Texas Sea Grant. It is aligned with the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for fourth grade. We have a series of questions and answers that we hope by the end they will know more about regarding three main areas. When I was here with Mary Caulkins (staff member for the museum) a few years ago, we were out here collecting crabs for educational purposes, and I just fell in love with this park. It is amazing,” Wilkinson said.
The museum serves 11 counties including Calhoun.
“We always like to do field trip opportunities out in the community because right now we are a museum without walls. We are opening our new building in Victoria on March 12. Then we will be able to have field trips within the museum. But we have seen the benefits of meeting people where they are, and of going to schools and getting out in the community. We will continue that once the museum opens,” Wilkinson said.
“It has been a unique discovery process for us, too. I thought could we host a field trip out here? Last year we called the park and asked those questions. Mary Caulkins has a background in marine life. She helped design the curriculum,” Wilkinson said. “We are so glad to come to your community. We are trying to reach out more and more to the counties we serve.”
On Friday, Jackson-Roosevelt students spent the day going through each of the stations.
At the beach station, Brandee Hess, of Blue Lagoon Aquarium in Victoria, helped students cast a seine net along the shoreline of Lavaca Bay. Students caught silverfish, shrimp, catfish and comb jellies in the net. Rhonda Cummins, a Calhoun County Agrilife Extension marine agent, who is also with Texas Sea Grant, gave a talk about pollution and the different shells found on the beach. Cummins had the students find three different objects on the beach. The children came back with driftwood, shells, bottle caps and feathers.
Next was the marsh station where Todd Valdes, who is a museum board member, described the marsh ecosystem surrounding the walkway, particularly the periwinkle snail, the spartina grass it lives on and the hermit crab. Students held the tiny snail in hand, then turned their hand upside down to learn about suction and how the snail moves.
At the crabbing station further down the walkway, Caulkins and Caitlyn Jennings, who are both community outreach specialists for the museum, gave a brief talk about crabbing underneath the walkway pavilion before they had the students do the “crab walk” to the third and last station.
Caulkins and Jennings told the students if they were patient and quiet, that the crab will take the bait in the net. The crabs were pulled from the net, and their claws were banded shut as the children held them.
“We get a lot of oohs and ahs. They’re asking questions, and they’re stumping some of our staff. We encourage them to go back to the classroom to do some of that research to answer some of those questions that we didn’t have time to answer,” Jennings said.
“My favorite thing is hearing back from the parents on how the children have come home, and they have so much to tell them about what they’ve learned. When they come back to the beach, they can teach their families, their parents and their siblings. They can identify a blue crab, and they know about the tides,” Jennings said.
Wilkinson hopes the students receive an overall learning experience from the field trip.
“I hope that it gives them a spark for learning more, and that they appreciate the environment a little bit more. I hope that they have fun while they are learning, even if they don’t realize how it has changed their perspective,” she said.