Sea and tell: Newport Aquarium will send sharks, stingrays into some Cincinnati schools

Grant to foundation aims to aid STEM education
Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-31 06:23:35-05

CINCINNATI -- Petting sharks and penguins soon will be a regular part of science learning for some Cincinnati Public Schools students.

Exotic creatures from Newport Aquarium will visit certain classes three times a year over the next three years as part of the Living Curriculum Initiative.

“We believe that we’ll make a material impact in both the quality and the quantity of STEM education in those students,” said Newport Aquarium Executive Director Eric Rose.

The initiative is being offered by WAVE Foundation through a $202,779 grant -- the largest received by the organization -- from the Louis and Louise Nippert Charitable Foundation. WAVE, which stands for Welfare of Aquatic Animals through Advocacy, Volunteerism and Education, is a nonprofit organization working in partnership with Newport Aquarium.

The WAVE Foundation previously offered programming primarily at the aquarium, but about two years ago, its leaders shifted their focus to include more outreach within the community. With its mobile shark and stingray tanks, the organization’s ability to take sea creatures and others into the community makes it a rarity, said Dan Dunlap, education curator for WAVE Foundation.

The Living Curriculum Initiative this year will bring sharks, stingrays, penguins and reptiles to third-graders in Cincinnati Public Schools that are at least 75 percent eligible for free and reduced price lunch. The students will have the opportunity to observe, learn about and touch them.

“They’re going to get an opportunity to experience wildlife like they never have before,” Dunlap said.

Over the next two school years, the program will follow those same students through fourth and fifth grade, with three visits planned for each year. The curriculum will vary from one year to the next, targeting learning objectives specific to the successive grade levels.

The learning objectives are designed to align with state standards, with the hopeful outcome that students’ science scores on state-mandated assessments will show improvement.

“We’re going to prove how our informal education outreach programs are going to increase science IQ levels in the schools,” Dunlap said.

In addition to delving into topics like conservation and the scientific method, the lessons will tie in to subjects like language arts, with reading and writing assignments related to the experiences.

The key factor in the program’s anticipated benefit is the natural curiosity live animals inspire in children, said Scott Wingate, executive director of the WAVE Foundation.

“When you bring an animal into a classroom, there’s an automatic animal magnetism,” he said. “Immediately, what we’ve noticed is (students) begin to ask questions.”

Because many students in urban schools have never been out of their own county, the Living Curriculum experiences may be the first time they see aquatic wildlife firsthand.

“A lot of these kids have never even been to the beach before,” Dunlap said.

“They are going to get much, much more exposure than they would have ever gotten without the research or the funding,” Rose said.

If the program is successful in showing improvements in science performance, aquarium and WAVE Foundation leaders hope to secure more funding to continue the initiative beyond the three years.

“We wanted to develop this program so we can empirically show and grow our impact,” Wingate said.