Over 830 middle school students and teachers from 27 schools in northern and central New Jersey were scientists for a day in an outside classroom at Clean Ocean Action's two-day Annual Spring Student Summit on Thursday and Friday. Students experienced hands-on marine environmental education by participating in a roundtable of six activities and twelve interactive field activities. The beaches, trails, and marshes of the Gateway National Recreation Area - Sandy Hook Unit served as the outdoor classroom for the seaside symposium.

"From holding a horseshoe crab to water sampling, students get an up-close look at their coastal world," said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action (COA). "There is something extraordinary about the experience of holding a living creature that's basically unchanged since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. It gives students a sense of awe about their natural world. The goal is to inspire them to protect it," she added.

Students participated in six hands-on roundtable activities, which included learning about horseshoe crabs, identifying seashells, studying invertebrates, observing a model of nonpoint source pollution, and learning the lethal effects of litter on the marine environment. Students from the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, a Monmouth County vocational high school located on Sandy Hook, served as peer teachers at the activity workstations.

In addition, naturalists and other education professionals led students in twelve field activities throughout the park. Some students used seine nets to collect and identify common marine species of Sandy Hook Bay. Other participants learned about key bird species and the important role of Sandy Hook in bird migration. Also, students participated in a beach cleanup, tested water quality, learned fishing techniques, and traversed trails with park naturalists.

"During the Summit, students become scientists for a day by exploring the local environment here at Sandy Hook. The Summit instills students with a sense of stewardship that is necessary for protecting the environment in the future," said Meg Gardner, COA Citizen Action and Activities Coordinator, and organizer of the program.

The 2010 Spring Student Summit was made possible by donations from private foundations, businesses, and citizens.

Schools that attended were Al-Hikmah Elementary School, Belvidere Elementary School, Brookside School, The Cambridge School, Delaware Township School, Eastern Christian Middle School, Fords Middle School, Harding Township School, Lafayette Township Elementary School, Lincoln Elementary School, Long Branch Middle School, Matawan Aberdeen Middle School, Monument Middle School, Noble Leadership Academy, Our Lady of Consolation Academy, Our Lady of the Lake School, Our Lady of Sorrows School, Padre Pio Academy, Sacred Heart School, Seashore School, Shrewsbury Borough School, Solomon Schechter Day School, St Jerome, St Genevieve School, St Joseph in Bogota, St Joseph in East Orange, and Woodcliff Middle School.