The Out-of-Door Academy continually implements new programs and strategies to meet the emerging educational needs of the next generation and support the growth of the Sarasota area. Using a student-centered approach with hands-on, project-based learning, students learn by tackling real-world problems. So when Upper School (high school) engineering students were tasked with identifying a local problem and seeking a solution, it didn’t take them long to pick one.
They had already zeroed in on water pollution as an issue when red tide resurged with a vengeance. And these students got to work! They developed a practical, economical, and sustainable solution to combat water pollution in the Gulf of Mexico through an ongoing oyster project.
After learning that oysters naturally filter water of pollutants and microalgae, students designed a system to bolster the oyster population. Oysters need to graft onto a reef in order to grow and reproduce, so the class sought out sustainable materials to create a biodegradable reef to protect the oysters while they filter the water—without disturbing the natural ecosystem of the bay.
ODA received a $7,250 STEM grant from the Toshiba America Foundation (TAF) to create the prototype reefs. They are currently setting up saltwater reef tanks to mimic the Gulf’s conditions. Students will monitor the water conditions, care for the oysters, and test reef prototypes on campus before transporting them to shorelines for long-term study.
“The funding from the Toshiba Grant will provide exciting and meaningful learning opportunities for ODA students,” says ODA Head of School David Mahler. “Given the recent impact of red tide on our region, this student-driven research project could not be more important or timely.”
The students hope the research project continues after they graduate. In the long run, they hope their project leads to a student-run research facility on campus just for aquaculture projects. They even made mock-ups of a possible research facility.
“Just because we’re focusing on rebuilding an oyster population and reducing red tide doesn’t mean the next group of students have to do the same,” senior Lilli Carlton says. “They can focus on some other marine life research. It’s all about building a legacy. We could learn something new every year.”
And it’s not just the older kids leading the charge. ODA starts integrating the hands-on learning approach at their Lower School campus on Siesta Key.
Last year, elementary students focused on sustainable environmental practices, organizing beach clean-ups, studying the effects of ODA’s 550-plus solar panels to reduce the school’s carbon footprint, and researching ways to be less wasteful.
This year, students have constructed an aeroponic tower garden—a project that incorporates science, math, culinary arts, economics, horticulture and more. They study and care for the plants, analyzing how various factors impact their overall health. At the end of the year, students will have to hypothesize how aeroponics may be used to solve real-world problems.
What a nod to Out-of-Door’s founders, who believed so strongly in kids connecting with nature, staying active and taking in the fresh air to be balanced individuals! Out-of-Door undoubtedly empowers every student to confront the challenges of life in a rapidly changing, complex, and interdependent world.
Learn more about Out-of-Door’s exceptional educational offerings for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 at www.oda.edu/explore.