Middle-schoolers spent a week at the Rhoda and Jack Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center as part of the PUSH/SUCCESS program.

Learning to Succeed

Three middle-schoolers huddled around a microscope at New College of Florida, carefully combing through a clump of Spanish moss.

Their mission was to find what may be hidden inside the moss. One of the boys pointed at something. “That thing … It looks like a piece of wood.” “Oh, that thing, you mean that shiny ball?” his partner asked. “It looks like dandruff,” observed the third boy.

The trio, along with more than 30 other middle and high school students, spent a week at the Rhoda and Jack Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center June 8-12, part of the annual PUSH/SUCCESS program. PUSH (Preparing Unique Students for Healthcare careers) is for students in grades 9 through 11.

SUCCESS (Students United to Create Culturally and Educationally Successful Situations) is for students in grades 6 through 8. Both programs focus on typical, not gifted, students, and on students from demographics under-represented in science. “In fact, we really target the average student,” said biology Professor Sandra Gilchrist. “Those are the students who don’t get a chance in a lot of the other programs.”

To participate, student must fill out an application form that includes their grades for the year. They must also get a recommendation letter from one of their teachers.

At New College, under the watchful eye of Gilchrist and her teaching assistants, the children performed experiments, recorded observations, took field trips and produced data. “Hopefully [it will] inspire them to do their own experiments for science fair projects at their own schools,” Gilchrist said.

Another goal is to show students how the health of Sarasota Bay is important to the health of the citizens who live in the area. “We try to make it relate to things around them,” she said. Joey, a seventh-grader at Village Island Montessori School in Sarasota, said he liked being outside and doing activities such as walks along the bay to takes samples for study and to study bugs that feed on leaves.

Vincenzo, from Sarasota Military Academy Prep, said he liked studying anemones. “They have an interesting life cycle,” he said. Jacob, a seventh-grader also from Village Island Montessori, said he’s learned a lot studying brine shrimp. “I really like observing them in different environments.”

Gilchrist credits private donations, as well as grants from organizations including the Dart Foundation, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and Publix Charities with making the program possible. “The nice thing is, we’ve had students who have done this multiple years. It’s interesting to see, once they get into the senior level, what they’re choosing to do,” Gilchrist said. “I’m proud of them.”