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Close to the coast

Conne River's Se't A'newey Kina'matino'kuom students sail on floating classroom

By Sarah Smellie

A partnership in Conne River is taking learning to new depths.

A floating classroom is in development by the Miawpukek Mi’kmaw Mawi’omi of Conne River for students at Se’t A’newey Kina’matino’kuom, and schools throughout the Bay D’Espoir region. That’s right: floating.

The classroom is a boat: the MV Wooden Heart, a former fishing vessel from the community that has been retrofitted as a marine classroom.

“It’s a really nice thing because when you’re sitting in the classroom it can be pretty dry,” said Bailey Hanson, a science teacher for Grades 10, 11 and 12 at Se’t A’newey Kina’matino’kuom

She laughs when she realizes her joke.

Fishing vessel retrofit

The retrofit of the MV Wooden Heart is the result of a partnership between the local band government, the school in Conne River and the Oceans Learning Partnership (OLP). OLP is a non-profit organization that formed in 2012 with the mandate to increase ocean education among K-12 students in Newfoundland and Labrador.

OLP has assembled a network of organizations that share this goal, and it now includes education partners Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Education, the Faculty of Education at Memorial and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association; program partners Parks Canada and Memorial University; and research scientists from Memorial University, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Parks Canada.

The Coastal Explorers field school is the flagship program of the OLP and offers boat-based, shore-based and lab-based programs to schools at partner locations around the province, including Memorial’s Ocean Sciences Centre and Bonne Bay Marine Station, Terra Nova National Park, and soon, Conne River.

Ms. Hanson and the other teachers at the school have been working to adapt the field school program to fit the local needs of students at Se’t A’newey Kina’matino’kuom. They’re hoping to have a complete curriculum ready by next fall.

“We’re taking those activities and making them specific to our region,” she said.

‘More than meets the eye’

The community of Conne River sits at the Conne River estuary, where fresh water meets the ocean brine.

It’s a unique ecosystem, with a unique story: the fishery is an important part of the history of the Indigenous people in Conne River, and now the entire Coast of Bays region is a major hub for the province’s aquaculture sector.

“This could even go cross-curricular,” Ms. Hanson said. “We’ve talked about social studies and geography and how all those things can be incorporated into it, as well.”

Ms. Hanson says a lot of the region’s young people feel they need to leave if they want to succeed and have a good job.

“Not many young people really know what’s going on unless they are boating.” — Bailey Hanson

She’s hoping the new curriculum will help show kids in the area that there are a lot of jobs in aquaculture or even with DFO right in Conne River or in the Coast of Bays region.

“For young people just finishing school, there is a lot more here than meets the eye,” she said.

But at the heart of her excitement is the chance for students to have a deeper connection with the land and sea of their home.

“Just to see it and realize ‘this is in my backyard,’” she said. “Not many young people really know what’s going on unless they are boating.”

Out on the water

The boat’s conversion from a fishing vessel to a floating classroom was finished this past summer.

It now has high-tech underwater monitoring equipment, including an underwater camera so students and teachers can get a clear, real-time look at what’s beneath the surface. Ms. Hanson says it’s going to make a “huge” difference.

When the boat was ready for a test run, she and a few teachers set out for a field trip. First, they started with a shoreline activity to see if they could find plankton. They only found one.

“And we worked really hard to find it,” Ms. Hanson said.

Then they went out on the boat. Sure enough, there were plankton everywhere. They didn’t even need a microscope to see them.

Ms. Hanson says even the teachers who were a bit hesitant about the project were convinced once they were out on the water.

“That’s the key. When someone who wasn’t sure about it is won over like that, you know you’re doing something good.”

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