Buckhannon-Upshur High School students taking biology have the opportunity to work with animals including axolotls, pictured above, which are critically endangered. Teacher Bridgette Tenney will be hosting parent information meetings on Thursday, Sept. 30 for students interested in traveling to the Florida Keys and Hawaii for hands-on science learning.

Upcoming trips for high-schoolers offer chances to engage in project-based learning in Hawaii, Florida Keys

BUCKHANNON – Students at Buckhannon-Upshur High School have the unique opportunity to participate in two upcoming student learning trips.

Bridgette Tenney, biology teacher at B-UHS, spoke to members of the Upshur County Board of Education during their Sept. 14 meeting and received approval to proceed with the trips to the Florida Keys and to Kona, Hawaii.

Parent meetings regarding these trips will be held Thursday, Sept. 30 at Buckhannon-Upshur High School in Room 208. The first meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. and is specific to the Florida Keys trip, which is open to all B-UHS students. The second meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. on the same day.

Students eligible for this trip are those in grades 9, 10 and 11 since the trip is slated for 2022.

During the BOE meeting, Tenney said they added a class in zoology for B-UHS students this year.

“This is exciting because we are trying to add elective classes to give students some interesting choices,” Tenney said.

Tenney told BOE members it has been a dream of hers to have a ‘living’ classroom.

“Every year I work harder and add new things to make my classroom more hands-on and more alive,” Tenney said. “So, we have a bunny named Lily, and she has a litter for us each year. We study genetics with her. We have a crested gecko and the students built an enclosure for him where everything inside is alive.”

Tenney said she has axolotls, which are on the endangered species list.

“This year, we are going to add reptile embryology,” Tenney said. “That is the hope. We have always done mammals, including Lily the bunny, and have hatched chickens where we added an eyeglass lens on top to watch them develop day after day.”

Tenney said these projects help students learn to control infection and the amount of humidity, and the students must understand the anatomy inside the eggs.

“This year, we will be adding reptile embryology with the crested geckos,” she said. “Each year we are adding something.”

Tenney said the point of the trips is to make biology real for her students.

“We have, in the past, gone to Tampa, Florida to swim with manatees and have dissected sharks,” Tenney said. “We have dissected squids and were with dolphins with no tails. We shadowed six careers in marine biology and most recently, we went to Alaska in June with students and it was amazing.”

She said while in Alaska, the tour guide had the participants stand and look at a glacier ahead of them; the tour guide said five years prior, where they were currently standing would have been on the glacier.

“That is learning about global warming hands-on,” Tenney said. “You cannot imagine how that feels when she said five years prior, we would have been standing on that glacier; then she took them on the five-mile hike and they were able to touch that glacier.”

Tenney said while in Alaska, the students were able to see live grizzly bears in the wild.

“We saw humpback whales and moose – lots of moose,” Tenney said. “Every place we went in Alaska was a different ecosystem. Kids just do not get that in the classroom.”

Tenney told BOE members the next adventure she has planned is a trip to the Florida Keys.

“I want to do a smaller trip, then a larger trip; that way, the kids who do not have the funding to participate in the Hawaii trip could possibly save and go on the trip to Florida because it is cheaper,” she said. “It is still an amazing adventure but gives the families a little bit of flexibility.”

She hopes to offer the trip to the Florida Keys in spring and the trip to Hawaii in 2023.

“This gives the students time to work and come up with the money for the trip,” she said. “I had a student who did weed-eating to come up with the money for the trip. Another girl got a job at Walmart, and she earned the money for her entire trip. I think it is important to give families the time to get the money together.”

During the upcoming trip to the Florida Keys, participants will have the opportunity to swim with dolphins, snorkel, kayak in the mangroves and engage in shark dissection.

“World Strides is the company I travel with, and they make every minute of the trip filled with learning,” she said. “We come home in the evenings and I am exhausted and the students are exhausted. They only do student travel and I do not have to worry about anything.”

Following Tenney’s presentation, BOE members voted unanimously to approve her sponsoring the two trips and asked that the administration look into offering the trips to all B-UHS students instead of only students in Tenney’s classes.

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