Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LEARNING ON THE RIVER; Duval Schools Partner with CSX, Riverkeeper to Get Kids on Water

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

LEARNING ON THE RIVER; Duval Schools Partner with CSX, Riverkeeper to Get Kids on Water

Article excerpt

Byline: Rhema Thompson

The downtown water taxi barely inched away from Friendship Park when the heads of about 40 gleeful fifth-graders darted back and forth, trying to catch a glimpse of anything in the murky river below.

Teacher Nyeika Thorne chided them, "I know we're excited we're on the boat, but it's time to pay attention."

For many of the students from Carter G. Woodson Elementary - where nearly 80 percent of students are considered poor - Monday's hour-and-a-half tour was a first.

Most aboard had never been this up close to the St. Johns River before, including 11-year-old Jerome Davis and his mother, Latoya Anderson.

"It's very exciting to be able to spend time with him here," Anderson said.

Jerome, who is considering becoming a veterinarian one day, said he was looking forward to spotting dolphins and other aquatic life during the excursion. He said the closest he'd ever been to the river before that morning was The Jacksonville Landing.

"We just went out to eat and stuff on the Landing," he said.

Jerome and his class are the first to board the boat as part of a new federally and locally funded initiative to provide more access to low-income classrooms throughout the district to hands-on lessons about the river's ecosystem.

'ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME' CHANCE

Duval County Public Schools partnered with environmental advocacy group the St. Johns Riverkeeper and CSX Corp. to give about 4,500 students from the district's 69 poor elementary schools a front-row seat to aquatic life in the river.

"This opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our fifth-graders to be able to get out on the river and experience first-hand the ecosystem and learn about our treasured resource," said district Director of the Arts Jeffrey Smith.

Throughout the fall and spring, students in elementary school will tour the river with members of the Riverkeeper, as part of the district's STEAM - science, technology, engineering, arts and math - curriculum. …

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