Dive Into Science with the Schooba Academy
August 22, 2011
By Stephanie Stefanski, OurEarth.org Intern
By Stephanie Stefanski, OurEarth.org Intern
Rome began scuba diving when he was 13 and was a fully certified divemaster by the time he started college. Once he graduated, he received scuba instructor certification and also began teaching middle school science at Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, New York. He soon realized that in order to help students fully understand these scientific concepts, he needed to engage them in a unique way – a way that would teach science through real-life activities and application.
Last year, he left teaching to begin designing The Schooba Academy. Rome spent six months developing the curriculum and concept and has worked with over 35 students since January. Many of these students completed over twenty-four hours of private science tutoring, which allowed them to receive high school science credits, and explored the connection between scuba, nature, and science through weekend field trips and over thirty hours of scuba training.
In the most recent two courses, the majority of students have been over-aged and under-credited, so this academy provides an invaluable opportunity to improve science knowledge and test scores, gain credits, and graduate on time. Although not every student fulfills the twenty-four hours of tutoring required to receive credit, those that participated in at least 13.5 hours improved by an average of 22% on their post assessment, which is composed of questions from the New York State science tests.
Scuba is an activity that these students from low-income communities never even consider – it is so foreign, and thus so exciting, to them. I can only imagine their excitement as they enter the pool for the first time, in full diving gear, and then later when they complete their first open-water dive surrounded by marine life. I recently went through a similar experience of scuba certification myself, which opened new doors for me to explore and discover nature.
Rome was fortunate to establish key partnerships with the Brooklyn school, where he previously taught, and with Ocean Horizons Scuba, a local dive shop whose owner was enthusiastic about becoming involved and working with this group of students. The dive shop has been generous in both time and money by providing instructors, assistance, and equipment rentals. The school, community, and students all reacted positively to the creation of The Schooba Academy. Together, these groups and individuals helped turn Rome’s ideas into a reality, which allowed for growth among the students and within the community.
Rome states that it was key to find someone who was interested in achieving the same sorts of goals that he hoped to achieve with the Academy. He recommends that anyone trying to start a non-profit or similar initiative in their community should try to find the right network of supportive and engaged people.
However, even with support and materials, the biggest challenge is finding funding, which is especially trying given the current financial climate. To overcome this challenge, The Schooba Academy has already held one fundraiser and is currently competing as an AT Cares Grant Candidate.
For the upcoming fall semester, Rome plans to expand the Academy by offering lifeguard and CPR training, which will lead to more job opportunities for his students. These courses will also be accompanied by private science tutoring at the school and students will receive high school science credit once they complete at least 24 hours of tutoring and 30 hours of training.
There seems to be much in store for this growing organization in the heart of Brooklyn. What seems like an unlikely activity for city kids has become an engaging learning tool to boost science knowledge and skills. The key to success? Rome chose scuba diving as an activity that students would be interested in because it is both exotic and engaging. Participation is voluntary – students choose whether or not they would be interested in attending the academy. By choosing diving as the primary activity, Rome was able to build a curriculum that drew science out of this engaging learning tool. This is much easier, he argues, than teaching scientific knowledge and then trying to apply it to different, disjointed activities.
By allowing students to literally “dive in” to science through scuba, they are able to directly experience basic scientific concepts, and this intimate understanding will help them succeed in high school science classes, as well as learn invaluable skills and experience new and engaging activities, such as field trips to museums and dive trips off the coast of Queens.
To Learn More About the Schooba Academy, visit their website: http://schooba.wordpress.com/.