Colorful sunsets over bright blue waters: it’s every high schooler’s tropical paradise. For some, a lab report and four quizzes a day totalling over 80 hours of coursework might be quite the opposite — but for twenty Dashers, the two went hand-in-hand on DSHA’s Marine Science Trip to Hawaii from June 19 to July 2, 2018.
Science Faculty Stacey Strandberg, who has coordinated and chaperoned the trip four times, says it’s the academic rigour that sets DSHA’s biannual Marine Science voyage apart. Students study biology, physics, and chemistry in hands-on, in-water labs and interactive classroom settings. “Yes, we’re going to a tropical paradise,” says Strandberg, “but we are going to have a whole new level of skills and learning. This is a science-focused, rigorous trip.”
The trip is first-come, first-serve for sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and it always fills quickly. Alongside classes on tides, cnidarians, plankton, rays, and an abundance of other marine topics, the trip’s curriculum places a strong emphasis on sustainability. It’s a focus students take to heart. “The biggest takeaway I had from Hawaii was the amount of respect one should have for the environment. We should be aware of it and try to conserve it the best we can,” says Alejandra Razo Velazquez, DSHA ‘20.
Accompanying the science are plenty of opportunities to immerse in Hawaiian culture. Dennis O’Rourke, co-owner of Great Destinations Hawaii, has been providing marine science learning opportunities to high school students for over 40 years. Strandberg says it’s thanks to O’Rourke that the trip is so rich in culture. “He makes the trip a unique experience — it’s an insider’s view of Hawaii,” she shares. “You couldn’t go to Hawaii and say, ‘I want to do that.’”
Dashers enjoyed a talk from the granddaughter of the High Priestess of Hawaii, snorkeled in non-commercialized spots not accessible to most tourists, and got an up-close view of an erupting volcano thanks to O’Rourke’s insights and connections. They were taught by native Hawaiians, who instilled culture and appreciation for the island that left a lasting impact on the students. “There is a whole different culture and experience everywhere you look outside your very own home,” says Holly Schwanebeck, DSHA ‘20, who traveled on the trip. “Hawaii shows you that you don’t have to be from a certain area to be immersed in the culture, and to understand the beauty of a place.”
Dashers are joined each year in Hawaii by students from two Cincinnati high schools, the all-boys St. Xavier and co-ed Summit Country Day School. Since the schools visit on a similar rotation and are coincidentally both Catholic institutions like DSHA, these long-lasting connections offer the chance for faith-formative experiences, like attending Mass together. Strandberg says this collaboration also allows Dashers the chance to work as lab partners with people they haven’t met, and more often than not, “they make friendships that last,” she shares. In years past, many young women from DSHA have traveled to visit, or even have become college roommates with, students from Summit. Kennedy Conklin, DSHA ‘20, can testify. “I have kept close contact with most of the students from Saint X and plan to for a long time,” she says. “The memories we made were unforgettable, and I love the friendships I made.”
Friendships aren’t the only thing that grows on the Marine Science trip. Strandberg says she is always amazed by the personal development she sees in the Dashers. “The students grow from the first day when we get there to when we leave — they feel more secure in who they are,” she reveals. Over the two weeks, as students wake up at 5 a.m. to go to Starbucks to study and use their headlamps to complete labs after lights-out, she can see they’re learning the value of time management under pressure. She observes them adapting to the different teaching styles of the St. X and Summit teachers, and reaching out to help other students who may be struggling. “The things you don’t think of teaching somebody — they learn those skills. They become self-sufficient,” she says.
At the conclusion of the trip, DSHA students receive a grade for the course and a certificate of completion from Hawaii Preparatory Academy. Though they do not receive DSHA credit for their coursework, Strandberg says their commitment to marine science never wavers. “It’s a testament to our school,” she says. “The girls know other students are depending on them to do well, and there’s pride; they want to show their ability. Their dedication to learning is evident.”
Before Strandberg began to lead the trip in 2012, the duty belonged to Science Faculty Sue Reidy. When she passed away from cancer in 2013, it became a Hawaii trip tradition for students to sing the self-proclaimed ‘DSHA Anthem’, the hymn “We are One Body,” in her honor. This year, as students floated flowers out into the surf after creating Hawaiian leis, the Saint X and Summit students joined in the song. “All of the kids sang together and showed their support,” Strandberg recalls. This show of encouragement was made even more special, as the song became one of support for the Dashers on the trip who had recently lost family members to tragedies. “It was neat to see how they came together,” says Strandberg.
How would the girls describe the trip? As “everlasting,” “once-in-a-lifetime,” “exceptional,” and “exhilarating.” “My memory of this trip will never fade,” says Conklin. “It changed my perspective on life for the better.”