Splash into Science: 5 days in the Florida Keys (Part 1)
As an Account Manager at WorldStrides, I get some pretty amazing opportunities. One of those came with the invitation to accompany a school group from the Midwest on their Splash into Science program last fall, along with two colleagues, Nikki and Gina.
We were only in Florida for five days, but the impact of educational travel is far reaching. During one week in the Florida Keys, we were able to cross off bucket list items, have hands-on discoveries, and truly experience the trip of a lifetime. I cannot begin to express the monumental impact this trip had on my life, both personally and professionally. I love what I do, but this sparked a passion inside of me like no other. My purpose as an Account Manager was redefined as I realized I was able to provide these opportunities to students across the country.
Here is a recap of our Splash into Science program:
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale where we were met by our two course leaders, Doug and Megan. If there are two people who know and love the flora and fauna of Florida more than these guys, I have yet to meet them. They were fantastic guides and turned every activity into a learning moment, usually without us even knowing it! After an early dinner, we headed to Everglades National Park.
After passing around the bug spray, we began our tour through the Everglades over a boardwalk path to look for alligators in the water. At first, there were none to be found. Then, a parent nudged me and told me to look down. Not three feet from me was a female gator floating by, completely unaware—or simply uninterested—in our presence. She must have been our good luck charm as we saw several more around the park as we continued our night sounds lab. What a first day in Florida!
After breakfast, we loaded up our bus and headed to Shark Valley to take a tram tour through the Everglades. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Everglades. I kept picturing swampy water with lots of algae on the surface and gators lurking below. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Miles of crystal clear water with grass, pods of trees, and dozens of birds, fish, and gators in all directions. The pictures don’t do it justice. It was one of the more breathtaking views I’ve ever seen.
During our tram tour, my colleague, Nikki, and I decided to do something brave. Our guide had stopped the tram, hopped into the water, and invited us to join him… if we were brave enough, as gators live in this water.
We had a chance to see just how clear the water was, and check out the specific type of algae that grows on the grass here. It was just the first of many hands-on experiences we had in Florida.
After a quick stop for lunch, we headed to Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and geared up for our kayaking trip. Our guides, Emily and Eric, explained everything we would be doing and seeing, and gave us tips and tricks for kayaking. We then loaded into our kayaks and headed for the mangrove tress.
After stopping to see the roots of different kinds of mangroves, a field of Cassiopeia jellyfish, and taking a moment to admire the view of the ocean, we ventured to what the locals call “monkey bar alley.” In this section of the mangroves, the trees are so closely packed that you can’t paddle, but have to literally pull your kayak along by grabbing branches and moving yourself forward. It was during this portion of the kayaking trip that Nikki and I managed to capsize our kayak, but no harm came to us—or the students!
Dinner that night was a great experience. The food was good, but the really wonderful part was watching the students in our group open up about the day’s discoveries, and share their experiences with one another. That’s ultimately what this job—and student travel—is all about: experiences.
With our bellies full, we headed to Island Dolphin Care for our touch tank experience, and squid dissection. We gathered around a tank filled with shells, crabs, starfish, and so much more while our guide gave a fabulous presentation, pointing out different animals and feeding us information on each one. We literally couldn’t keep our hands to ourselves!
Then, it was squid dissection time. We followed the step-by-step instructions and I was even brave enough to eat the “stone” in the squid’s eye. It’s really the lens of their eye, and a myth states that eating it will bring you seven years of good luck. It tasted like a salty marble.
In an effort to keep waste to a minimum, they took the squid and made fresh calamari for us right there! While I’m a lifelong lover of seafood, it was cool to see these Midwestern kids eating calamari for the first time.
While the first two days in Florida were amazing, the next day, day three, was the one I had been waiting for. Check back soon for part two of my Splash into Science program experience!