Broward Middle School Offers Marine Science Magnet Program

South Florida’s public schools offer students a plethora of choices at all grade levels, with dozens of magnet programs catering to every interest. In Broward County Public Schools, the deadline to apply for one of the 70 magnet programs is coming up fast, next Wednesday, February 8th.

One of the more popular options is the marine science magnet program at New River Middle School in Fort Lauderdale.

“They’re learning about all the different aspects of marine science, physical, chemical, biological, oceanography and we get them out in the marine environment so they can learn about the seagrass beds, the mangroves, the coral reefs, which is right here in our back yard,” said the school’s magnet coordinator, Katherine O’Fallon. “We also expose them to the marine industry and the careers which are also right here in their back yard.”

They take their marine biology seriously here. We watched students dissecting clams. They’ve already taken squids apart and sharks are next on the dissection list.

You could say there’s literally an art to marine science when students create art from beach debris. They went on a beach cleanup mission and now they’re making art to make a statement about keeping out shorelines clean.

Students use computer coding and engineering skills to design underwater robots, called Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROV’s. They test them in a pool on campus; practicing their skills by making the ROV’s perform tasks. Then they take them to competitions.

“The ROV competitions really expose them to operating, how to apply the concepts that are in the design of the ROV,” said O’Fallon. “So they can see that not only are ROV’s used for exploring the ocean but they can also be used for different tasks under water such as exploring oil rigs and salvaging wrecks.”

Students seem to love the experience at New River, from snorkeling and shark tagging field trips (arranged by researchers from the NSU Guy Harvey School of Oceanography) to everything they do on campus.

“You get to experience so much that you would never even know about if you went somewhere else,” said Michael Moss, an 8th grader and veteran ROV pilot.

“The best part is you get to do a lot of fun experiments and you get to dissect things and it’s a lot of fun,” said classmate Emma Mosher.

“We go on a lot of field trips like snorkeling, shark tagging, and it’s a lot of fun,” chimed in 8th grader Xavier Vargas.

There’s enough variety to pique the interest of every student.

“Some of our students who maybe didn’t grab on to the marine biology part because it wasn’t their thing are finding a lot of excitement around building these remotely operated vehicles,” said Principal Melinda Wessinger.

Wessinger is a tireless promoter of her school’s program, but knows it’s not for every kid, and has a message for parents.

“Find out what your child’s passion is, middle school is a difficult time for all kids, if you can stoke that passion in middle school, they will become lifelong learners,” Wessinger said.

Admission to New River’s marine science program is done by lottery. To register for any of Broward’s programs, click here.

Miami-Dade’s magnet application deadline was January 15th.

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