LA PLATA, Md. – On Tuesday, Feb. 5, a group of North Point High School students added a little adventure to their school schedule. Rather than sitting in their math or English class, they signed up to participate in the Diving with a Purpose program in which they spent time scuba diving in the school’s pool.
This is the second year in which Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) has hosted the program for high school students. The program includes four components: a fall and spring unit in biology and U.S. history, a presentation portion about scuba diving, the scuba dive itself and an outdoor field trip to Mallows Bay.
In class, students learn about the science of diving and underwater ecosystems, as well as the history behind sea exploration and national marine sanctuaries, such as Mallows Bay that feature historic sunken ships. The dive portion of the program is run by instructors from the Scuba Center and Outdoor Rec of Solomons Island and Diving with a Purpose.
North Point senior Nishil Patel said he signed up for the program to learn more about scuba diving. “I went on a cruise this past summer with my family and went snorkeling. I really liked it and want to learn how to scuba dive,” he said. Patel is a certified lifeguard and hopes to continue learning about scuba so he can go diving this summer. “During the presentation, we learned about the science behind scuba, what to do in the water and how the gear works. This is a lot of fun,” he said.
Upon entering the water, instructors reviewed with students how to properly wear and use the scuba equipment. Then, a student was paired up with an instructor for a submerged lap around the pool.
Jay Haigler is a Diving with a Purpose lead instructor. He has more than 15 years of diving experience and recently returned from a dive in Mozambique, South Africa. Haigler dives in part to document shipwrecks and study the ecosystem. He said he enjoys working with junior diving programs and community outreach.
“Diving with a Purpose is part of our community outreach to get youth involved in scientific diving. I hope to be able to launch a scuba program here with students in the future,” Haigler said.
In the spring, participants of the program at North Point will visit Mallows Bay to participate in hands-on learning stations, explore areas of the park and observe the sunken ships that have become a part of the ecosystem and natural habitat.
The program was piloted at Henry E. Lackey High School last school year. Lackey students will again participate this year in April. Diving with a Purpose is supported with grant funding secured by the school system through the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The program is offered to sophomores in biology and U.S. history courses, but students in other grade levels can participate if there are openings. “There are two science units and two history units built in to the program. Nevertheless, of course we offer the opportunity to any interested students. This program is an example of learn by doing. What better way to spend your school day than learning to scuba dive?” Ian Buter, CCPS content specialist for science, said.
North Point freshman Michael McDonald said the uniqueness of the program is exactly why he wanted to participate. “This sounded like something different. Who in high school scuba dives during the school day? I just did,” McDonald said.