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The Colorado Coralition

School: Polaris Expeditionary Learning School

City/State: Fort Collins, CO

Grade(s): 7, 8, 9, 10

Format(s): Video: Project documentation

Subject(s): Science and Technology

Project Overview

Inspired by their teacher's own transformative experience of learning to scuba dive and volunteering with a coral restoration group, this project included multiple components: in-depth study of environmental issues surrounding the decline of healthy coral reefs, scuba certification for students, a trip to serve in the coral restoration efforts on a reef in the Florida Keys, and spreading the message about their learning and experiences through presentations, music, and video.  

With the help of Colorado Scuba Diving Academy in Fort Collins, CO students studied and became certified scuba divers. This process was rigorous academically for students as there is a wealth of technical terminology, scientific theory, and physics to learn. Students were compelled to "do more than they thought possible" as they worked to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for certification.

Students also did extensive fundraising, secured and worked jobs, and learned about the financial realities of the trip they had planned. From the beginning, the fundraising hurdles were outlined in detail so students could help generate solutions. Some students started a business selling hot cocoa to students and coffee to parents during the winter months. Older students found work at local businesses while younger students completed odd jobs for neighbors. The students also held a dance in support of their project. Lastly, several students initiated individual fundraising campaigns through crowdfunding and seeking sponsors. This collaborative approach ensured that any student, regardless of background, could take part in the Colorado Coralition project.  

During the trip, students attended a two-day course led by experts at the Coral Restoration Foundation to learn about coral decline and methods for restoration. Then students put their skills to the ultimate test diving to the bottom of the ocean and maintaining neutral buoyancy as they cleaned young staghorn coral fragments in the Coral Restoration Foundation's Offshore Coral Nursery, the world's largest nursery of this endangered coral species. Students then harvested healthy coral fragments from this “underwater garden” for out-planting on the reef. Students used a special epoxy and great care to fasten the fragments to the ocean floor. One hundred healthy coral fragments were planted by the students of Polaris Expeditionary Learning School—a record number for groups volunteering with the Coral Restoration Foundation.

Upon their return, students of the Colorado Coralition shared the impact of their learning through video, the EL Education National Conference, and a variety of community presentations.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Excellent model of student ownership of a social issue through service
  • High-quality example of an authentic audience for student work and a compelling call to action
  • Interdisciplinary project that pushed students with academic rigor, character development, and exploration of citizenry
  • Great model of articulate public speaking, candid personal reflection, and musical creativity

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