BONAIRE — The smell of fish filled a classroom Thursday morning at Bonaire Middle School as about 15 middle school-aged students dissected dogfish sharks. One student in the class picked up the shark’s liver with a pair of tweezers and held it up excitedly.
The students in the oceanography class were among about 500 that participated in Houston County’s Summer Enhancement 2010, said Jan Jacobsen, director of gifted education.
The two-week annual program, which ends today, was open to Houston County’s rising fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders in the gifted program, as well as other students who were on the honor roll or received honorable mention during the first semester.
Each student participates in two sessions, mostly taught by Houston County teachers, and were able to choose from dozens of hands-on offerings from crafts to forensic science to medieval times.
“It’s so much fun for them, it’s so engaging. There’s no tests, no anxiety. They come for the sheer enjoyment of learning,” Jacobsen said.
Whitney Dean and Randy Mizell, who teach gifted science at Perry Middle School, led the oceanography class during the program.
“It’s different from school,” Dean said. “They’re really into it. They want to be here. They’re really excited about this. It’s more hands-on.”
Throughout the two weeks, the oceanography students learned to use a dichotomous key, made bioluminescent fish with glow-in-the-dark paint and made blubber mitts with Crisco and plastic bags, Dean said.
Aiza Aslam, a rising sixth-grader at Mossy Creek Middle School, compared the shark dissection to the work doctors do regularly.
“We can understand things kids don’t usually,” Aslam said. “It’s gross but cool. We can understand things that live under the sea, things that are alien to us.”
Juliette Mossman, a rising sixth grader at Huntington Middle School working with Aslam, said they found a shrimp inside the shark.
“The best part about this is learning about the ocean and creatures,” Mossman said.
“It’s almost like a whole new world,” said another group member, Kaitlyn Snyder, a rising sixth-grader at Huntington Middle.
Sid Swartz, who taught science to gifted students in middle and high schools in Houston County until he retired in 2005, teaches an archery class during the summer program.
“I still enjoy (archery),” he said. “I used to enjoy it when I was their age. It’s a lot of fun.”
Other students took a course about bugs, where they made their own insect collection and created bug art. Best of all, they got the chance to eat a chocolate-covered cricket and left with a brightly-colored pin marking them as members of the “I Ate a Bug Club.”
The activities culminated in an open house Thursday night, filled with displays and performances of the students’ work during the program, as well as a performance of “The Shoemaker and the Elves.”
After directing the student actors in a dress rehearsal Thursday morning, hospital homebound instructor Billy Thomas was confident they would put on a good show for their guests.
“They’re ready to go,” he said. “They’re making things happen.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.