Sixty-seven Spiro seventh grade GEAR UP students recently traveled to Jenks to tour the Oklahoma Aquarium. Students began the morning with an introduction to by Education Specialist Michelle Zarantonello. The tour began with a visit to Reasor’s Shrimp Boat Exhibit where students enjoyed putting their hands in tanks to feed and feel the shrimp. Students toured Amazing Invertebrates to explore the spineless wonders of the world, including sponges, barnacles, starfish, and sea urchins. Students were free to explore the rest of the aquarium which features various exhibits from Extreme Fishes, Marvels and Mysteries, and Aquatic Oklahoma. Aquatic Oklahoma features a 120-year-old alligator snapping turtle, a seven-foot-long alligator gar, and prehistoric paddlefish.
The Shark Adventure exhibit is a tunnel that goes directly through the shark tank and allows visitors to see the sharks swimming all around them. There are ten bull sharks and three nurse sharks in the tank. The largest bull shark is a female that is approximately 200 pounds and eight feet long.
Students enjoyed the new addition, Sea Turtle Island ,sponsored by The Oxley Foundation which houses a 300-pound loggerhead sea turtle, reef sharks and other tropical fish. The 56,000-gallon tank is surrounded by a boardwalk and multilevel viewing which includes an underwater observation station for students to view the exhibit underwater. Educational components highlight the endangered sea turtles and how even in Oklahoma, we can impact sea turtles and their ocean habitat.
“An important part of the GEAR UP grant is allowing students to explore life beyond the classroom and encouraging them to experience new pathways,” said Bethany Hicks, GEAR UP Education Coordinator. “Students stood in awe watching the Oklahoma Aquarium staff work with the animals—from a maintenance worker in a wetsuit cleaning inside the tanks with fish floating around to a caretaker checking in on the raccoons.”
The field trip was sponsored by Eastern Oklahoma State College GEAR UP. Participating schools take two field trips each academic year—one to tour a college or university and one that is cultural/educational in nature. In 2017, Eastern received a $17 million federal GEAR UP grant and will serve over 3,000 students in 39 area schools for seven years.