Students prepare for trip to the Bahamas in Marine Biology class

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Photo courtesy Betsy Bing

Photo courtesy Betsy Bing

More than a dozen students in the St. Joseph School District are just weeks away from getting up close and personal with Marine Biology life in the Bahamas.

Betsy Bing, a science teacher at Benton High School said for more than 15 years now, the district has been offering a unique course on Marine Biology.  Students from all three public high schools can take part in the course.  Classes are held at night at Benton in preparation for a week-long sailing trip over spring break to the Bahamas.  It covers Oceanography and reef ecology.

“We talk about how things we do here impact the ocean, like agricultural, we talk about the importance of the reefs,” Bing said. “And then that cumulates in a week-long sailing trip where we snorkel several times every day in places that most people will never, ever get to.”

Bing said while the course itself is free, in order to take the trip to the Bahamas students have to pay around $1,900 for travel expenses. This year, she was able to save students around $400 in booking airfare.

“There’s an application process in the spring that we start.  Once those kids are chosen a lot of them will work over the summer to raise their funds,” she said. “Then we start class the end of August/beginning of September.”

This year’s class has 17 students. Those students tried out their snorkeling skills Monday at the downtown YMCA.  Bing said it’s a way to give them time to practice before they have to snorkel in the actual reefs.

“To see what it feels like to have the mask and breathe through the mask and snorkel just so that when they get there it’s that much less of a surprise,” Bing said. “Most of the reefs that we go to it’s clear, the reefs are about six feet from the top.”

She said in the years the district has offered this course they have graduated several students who have gone on to earn their college degrees in Marine Biology.  The class also counts as a half credit for a college elective. Regardless, Bing said it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

“The beaches that we go to are not the beaches that the normal tourists go to. When we go the only way we can get to the reefs we go to is you sail there.  The way the reefs are set up cruise ships can’t get in there,” Bing said. “The beaches that these kids go to are truly pristine, tourist free, not loads of people, not bumper to bumper towels.  They are just pristine beaches.  They’re seeing an area that most people can’t even fathom that they get to go see.”

Students take the trip over spring break.  This year’s spring break in the St. Joseph School District is at the end of March.

2016 class got to swim with the pigs off of an island in the Bahamas.  Photo courtesy Bing

2016 class got to swim with the pigs off of an island in the Bahamas. Photo courtesy Bing

Last year, students also got to swim with pigs off of an island in the Bahamas. Bing shared a video of last year’s trip to the Bahamas with us CLICK HERE to view the video on YouTube. Bing said the video was put together by a student, courtesy Madeline Brownfield.