The idea for Shore Lab Discovery Center began to take form about thirty five years ago, when I was the Curator of the Dallas Aquarium. It started when I was approached by the Dallas Independent School District to participate in a program that would offer on the job training to students interested in science careers. The students were juniors and seniors in high school and from disadvantage backgrounds. As it turned out, the school district left out some vital information. The students were society’s throw a ways. They acted out in classrooms, were abusive to teachers, brawled with other students, some had been convicted of crimes and most of them spent their days in detention away from the other students. They definitely were not interested in science careers. The aquarium was a way out of detention and school. The school district had reached the end of their rope and was looking for a life line. After some urging, I accepted the students. It was an epiphany for me and the students on the education process.
Their behavior at the aquarium did not change very much and they exasperated the staff. Little work was accomplished and even less science instruction occurred. I had to come up with something that would appease the aquarium staff and salvage the program for the school district and the students. Then it hit me. We were in the middle of renovating our Texas Shore exhibit and we needed exhibit animals. I organized an expedition to Mustang Island a barrier island on the Texas coast and I would take the group along and show them the life of a marine biologist. The island also happened to be home to a research station operated by the University of Texas. It was a gamble but something needed to change.
Everything did change for the students that first day on the island. The fuel was set and the sparks contained in each of them ignited. They were faced with a new reality. The classroom no longer had four walls; it was a research lab on an island surrounded by water and life. When faced with the hard and laborious task of working on the boats gathering data with the scientists , collecting specimens, maintaining the animals and grounds and working in the laboratory, the student’s became a mechanized unit requiring little supervision and completed tasks with pride.
The University researchers embraced the students and brought them into their respective laboratories to involve them in the research. The student's intellect for solving problems and thirst for knowledge became focused, inquisitive and simply skyrocketed. They took pride in themselves. Their confidence levels improved dramatically. They became structured and attentive instead of bored and disruptive. I showed them how to captain a ship, scuba dive, identify the wildlife on the island and in the ocean, how to fish, how to capture, transport and care for the animals, how to read the signs of the ocean. They learned and understood the connections between life in the ocean and life on the land. They learned how unique our water planet is among the stars. They learned the importance of caring for our planet and all living things. They learned how to overcome obstacles. They learned how to believe in themselves and that all things were possible. They learned to achieve and achieve they did. The disadvantaged youth became the advantaged youth; all capable of greatness, some more than others, but still they were accomplished. The discarded became the regarded. All returned to the classroom to share their experiences with their classmates and rejoined them to graduate from high school. Some continued their education and entered college.
The gap in how institutions approach education and present information both living and inanimate was clear. It became about changing the views students have of the classroom. It is about the thirst humankind has for knowledge, adventure and discovery. It was about creating a new generation of environmental stewards. Shore Lab Discovery Center took its first breath.
Our Position Today
Shore Lab Discovery Center is in the process of moving our classroom on to the decks of a sailing ship. A top sailing schooner to be named the RV Morning Star Explorer. We have expanded our crew to include scientists, explorers, adventurers and filmmakers. Life on a Tall Ship teaches us lessons that we as a people and time have forgotten. It’s the best way to see the oceans and learn about faraway lands. A new generation of explorer-scientists will be born out of The Science Ship™ program. We are positioned as a quality learning experience with excellent materials, effective management and well-prepared instructors.