Under the Sea – in Grand Cayman

Ah, sparkling aquamarine water, bright sunshine, and palm trees swaying in a warm breeze. The scene for 17 Brooks students today during their March Break trip to Grand Cayman was downright idyllic compared to campus' frigid conditions and near blizzard snowstorm.

But their tickets to paradise weren't just about getting away to a tropical beach.

The students jetted to the Caribbean island on March 7 for a week so that the group's non-certified divers could complete the open-water Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certification course that they'd begun in Brooks' Art & Science of Scuba Diving Winter Term.

"This is a special excursion because students get to complete the life-long certification, and they get to apply everything they learned during winter term to the open water," said science teacher Laura Hajdukiewicz P '15, P'17, P'19, who taught the Winter Term course and is leading the group in Grand Cayman, her seventh scuba trip for Brooksians. "It's a fantastic example of experiential learning at Brooks." (Dive the World instructor, tour operator and Brooks School parent Susan Copelas P'06 is accompanying the group as well. She is the group's dive instructor and taught the PADI course during Winter Term).

Learn about all the academic opportunities at Brooks School on our Embrace the Challenge page.

"It is truly hands-on learning," said Hajdukiewicz. In the ocean, students have to show the skills that they learned in the pool this winter. Those skills focus largely on safety, including how to put your mask back on underwater after removing it, tow a tired diver and share air if you have a problem with your air supply.

"The students also learned how to be neutrally buoyant in the water so that they can go through areas [like tunnels in coral reefs] and explore a wreck," added the teacher. "If they aren't weighted properly and don't control their breathing, they'll either float up or sink down. They're really mastering that skill."

And each day the dive masters from Sunset House Divers, who escort the group in the ocean, are reinforcing all of the Brooksians' Winter Term lessons about how gases work underwater (such as, never hold your breath while ascending because you could have lung over-inflation problems).

Of course there's been plenty of pure fun and adventure each day, too.

During the group's first day in Grand Cayman after dive orientation, the students got to snorkel off of their hotel's house reef and saw tons of fish.

By day two, half of the group's certification checkout dives were completed and "the kids all passed with flying colors," Hajdukiewicz wrote in a blog chronicling the trip.

Read about another recent science-filled excursion in Anatomy Class Trip Makes Lessons "More Meaningful"

On the third day, the rest of the students completed their certifications while others enjoyed exploring two special dive sites: Oro Verde and a spot called Armchair.

Oro Verde is "a wreck of a wreck of a wreck," wrote Hajdukiewicz. "It's in a bunch of pieces and was really interesting to dive ... Apparently when dive masters retired, they used to go to Oro Verde and throw their bikes into the ocean. The kids had a lot of fun pretending to ride the bikes."

The Armchair site was "a gorgeous dive," the teacher continued. "We saw turtles and [one student] found the elusive pipefish that is a cousin to the seahorse. The students got more and more comfortable diving and everyone seemed to really enjoy themselves."

The wreck of the USS Kittiwake — a decommissioned U.S. Navy boat intentionally sunk for diver exploration — followed on day four. "It is an enormous ship and so cool to dive," wrote Hajdukiewicz of the 251-foot vessel. "We did not go into it, that's for more experienced divers, but the students really seemed to enjoy the experience." On a second dive, they experienced another treat: finding a "huge" lionfish.

The group even squeezed in some instruction in photography.

"We had a special treat and got to hear a talk by Cathy Church, who is a very well known underwater photographer," Hajdukiewicz wrote in the trip blog. "She taught the students about how light works underwater and why she has to use special filters and light equipment in order to restore the natural colors to her pictures due to the way light bends underwater."

The lesson was a fitting inclusion to this epic science field trip. Said Hajdukiewicz, "It was physics in action!"

See a gallery of photos from the Grand Cayman excursion at brooksschoolphotos.com.

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