Last summer, Boothbay Sea and Science Center went fully virtual due to COVID-19. Despite registration open starting in January, when the lockdown came in March the program was cancelled. But with staff already hired, BSCC applied for funding, such as from the Paycheck Protection Program, in efforts to continue a virtual program. Videos about knot tying, sailing, marine science, climate, and interviews with local seaweed and agriculture farmers were created and released on the BSSC website. The app Seesaw was used to assign activities, Zoom to communicate as a group, and Kahoot!, a game-based learning platform to play fun, educational quizzes. No one except staff was at the Center so to connect with participants, “We really had to utilize all forms of the internet,” said President and Executive Director Pauline Dion.
This summer, the program returned to being in person and ended Friday, Aug. 20. Only half the usual number of participants were allowed at the Center, but the number of staff has stayed the same. As a program dependent on summer, following social distancing and other precautions set by the Center for Disease Control has been tough, Dion said. “This January when we opened registrations again, we knew things weren’t coming down. We had to think, what would be the most reasonable thing to do if we could open? And we also had to take into consideration adverse conditions like weather. So if we have bad weather, can we all fit in the spaces that we have safely? We did the math and spreading the kids out, 50% is the number.” The program has also been modified to half day, which has “put a crimp in a lot of people’s schedules, because we can only take so many,” Dion explained.
The programs remain popular, Dion said. BSSC hosts four programs divided by age. All programs extend for nine weeks and are divided into five sessions. The first week is called “Ship to Shore,” with a focus on discovering BSSC. Another session is “World Below the Waves,” the agricultural fisheries unit where kids can handle lobsters and learn about state regulations and licensing. A recent addition has been climate change, incorporating activities such as water quality testing, water temperature testing and studying weather’s impact on animals.
“We try to connect kids to the local community. We collaborate with the Botanical Gardens, have Family Day at Bigelow, speak to fishermen, farmers. Tomorrow we are going to an art gallery which I have been arranging for two years!” Dion said. “He’ll be telling the kids why he became interested in art, why he paints the subjects that he does. I mean, he’ll be showing the artist’s perspective, he’s looking at the entire ocean so why does he choose one thing?” Brad Betts at Down East Gallery was set to draw with the kids Aug. 26.
Despite the troubles the pandemic has brought, this summer has brought many memorable events. Juliet Fluty, a sailing and science instructor,0 designed the Center’s Trash Treasure artwork during the Tracking Trash session. “It was fun to design. We talked about, like, plastics that were trashed and where it goes. Most of the stuff here is stuff that kids brought in themselves from home or literally picked up.”
Audrey Aragon, a sailing and science instructor said, “We assist the principal instructors who already have plans for us. So we just hope the kids enjoy the activities. And they always do. This week we’ve been doing Color Wars, where the camp is split into two groups. It’s been awesome.”
Sheyenne Upham, 8, who has attended the program for four years, described making her own boat out of cardboard and duct tape. “It was like the Titanic, it sank and we had to haul it out of the water. I like to swim so it was OK swimming back with the boat.” Excitement over this self-made boating excursion was emphasized by Iilya Sanborn, 8. “I’ve learned how to ride a boat, which I did not know last year. But building boats was really fun, too.”
Aragon added, “They had one or two hours to make those boats. And, like, out of literally just cardboard and paint and duct tape they were able to make one that floated. That was super exciting.”