Sunday, August 5, 2012


SAN SALVADOR GUARDIAN ANGEL OF THE NURSE SHARK. Barry Johnson painted himself as a guardian angel in the first San Salvador SEA CAMP on the Gerace Research Centre (San Salvador, Bahamas) in 2008. I, Hallelujah Truth (aka Ruth Schowalter) taught the art component of SEA CAMP and took the students step by step in this activity that resulted from my own painting and collaboration with Sandy Voegeli and her photography.(Scanned by Ruth Schowalter and Sandy Voegeli)
Parents, teachers, museum educators, city officials, and community members all ask the same question: 

How can we engage children in learning about SCIENCE so that they are excited, invested, and become dedicated life-long learners! 

Serious environmental issues like global warming, habitat destruction, and the imminent extinction of vast numbers of animal and plants need our children’s attention, for today’s children are the EARTH’S FUTURE CARETAKERS.

Why not make SCIENCE fun and meaningful? Sandy Voegeli, one of the instructors at the annual SEA CAMP taught on the island of San Salvador, Bahamas, does just that! On the last day of July 2012, I interviewed Sandy about some of the CREATIVE SCIENCE ACTIVITIES she has been using at the San Salvador ("San Sal") SEA CAMP.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: How did you go about making SCIENCE interesting to SEA CAMP students?

SANDY VOEGELI: First of all, singing is a huge part of Bahamian culture, so we decided to present a conservation message to the children using song lyrics.  Ron Shaklee, a geography professor and musician who has been coming to San Salvador for more than 25 years, wrote a song for San Salvador’s children. The song, “The Living Jewels of the Land, Sea, and Sky,” includes eight species on San Salvador that are endangered.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: It has a very catchy tune, and the animal characters have rhyming names that make them easy to remember: Myrtle the Sea Turtle, Rupert the Nassau Grouper, Lana the Iguana, etc.

SANDY VOEGELI: Yes, after you hear the song, you remember the conservation message because it sticks in their head. (Sandy sings a phrase) “My name is Myrtle. I’m a sea turtle swimming over the reef. If I can’t lay my eggs on a quiet beach soon there won’t be any more of me…” (Listen to the song below)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: The song was so popular that its use went beyond the classroom walls of San Salvador, isn’t that right?

SANDY VOEGELI: “Living Jewels of the Land, Sea, and Sky” was recorded by Ira Storr and the Spank Band, a popular Bahamian band, along with some children from San Salvador at Nassau. Afterwards, it was played throughout the Bahamas and became part of The Bahamas National Trust.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: The song’s conservation message about habitat and endangered species was almost like a public service announcement, wasn’t it? And it is a lot of fun to sing along with! What other ways do you make science engaging to the children?

SANDY VOEGELI: At the first SEA CAMP in 2008, we decided to have the children make art to express their connection with their environment, since art isn’t in their school curriculum.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: That’s where you brought me in! I had been inspired by your photographs of the marine life at San Salvador and had begun a series of ENVIRONMENTAL GUARDIAN ANGEL paintings. In these images, I was clothing the GUARDIAN ANGEL in the pattern of the marine life, for example, the spotted eagle ray (see Sandy’s photo and my painting that resulted).

SPOTTED EAGLE RAY.  At the first San Salvador SEA CAMP in 2008, Sandy Voegeli and I made many copies of her photographs to put on the tables in the conference room of the Gerace Research Centre to provide the Sea Campers with real images of animals to look at. In addition to Sandy's photos, we had the children also using the Reef Set, three volumes about the marine life of Florida, Caribbean and Bahamas, by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach. It was exciting to see them looking up habitats for the creatures they were interested in. (photo by Sandy Voegeli)

GUARDIAN ANGEL OF THE SPOTTED EAGLE RAY. I  painted this altar piece to the spotted eagle ray on a 2 x 4 piece of wood. My intention on the bottom part of this painting was to capture the spirit of the beautifully patterned ray that Sandy had photographed and to put it in context of its environment. On the top part of the painting, my intention was to create a sacred space for the Guardian Angel of the spotted eagle ray and to dress her in the same pattern. Sandy loved this idea and thought that we should incorporate this idea into teaching the children of San Salvador to think more about their environment and what role they could play in protecting it.(photo by Ty Butler)
You liked that idea of merging SCIENCE and SPIRITUAL GUARDIANSHIP in a creative product like a painting and thought we could use this as an activity to impact the San Salvador children in the SEA CAMP classroom.

SANDY VOEGELI: So we made this ENVIRONMENTAL GUARDIAN ANGEL project a weeklong project. Sea campers personified themselves by becoming a guardian reef angel protecting a chosen plant or animal of the sea. Each camper became an expert on his or her animal, its habitat, and one thing they could do to protect that animal.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Interesting to combine SCIENTIFIC INSTRUCTION with RELIGION! What role does RELIGION play in the Bahamians’ attitudes towards conservation?

SANDY VOEGELI: Christianity is a foundational part of Bahamian life. Therefore, stewardship of God’s creation is extremely important. An angel was a familiar concept to the kids, and it was empowering for them to envision the role they can play in preserving their environment.
SAN SALVADOR SEA CAMP ART LESSON.  Sea Campers examine and discuss options for drawing their Guardian Angels. Jacq Marie Jack and I, Hallelujah Truth, had prepared these teaching examples in Atlanta, Georgia, before I went to San Salvador.(photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH:  Sandy, because you understand the Bahamian culture, you were able to choose both fun and meaningful ways for the San Salvador children to connect with the SCIENCE in their own backyard.

SANDY VOEGELI: You can see that in the following pledge that we facilitators ask the children to say each day of SEA CAMP:

Sea Camp Sea Keepers Pledge

I ___________________, pledge to Protect, Preserve and Conserve the sea and all of its creatures.

I will do all that I can encourage others to protect our marine environment.

I will respect the environment, which God created and do my best to keep it as beautiful as he intended.

SANDY VOEGELI: The pledge provides structure and fosters the idea that we are not separate from our environment, but a part of it. We are stewards of what’s in our backyard. If everybody would take care of his or her own backyard, the whole planet would be vibrant for future generations.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH:  In addition to using songs and fostering stewardship by having the children make environmental guardian angels, what are some other IMAGINATIVE activities you have used to teach SCIENCE in SEA CAMP since 2008?

SANDY VOEGELI: In the following SEA CAMPS, we have used map exercises, Jeopardy, photography, and short films.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Tell me about what you have done with photography.

SANDY VOEGELI: Just this summer (2012), each kid became a nature photographer. They learned photography tips throughout the week, snapped photos on both land and sea, and chose their favorite photo of the week to submit and compete in a photography contest. Because of this activity, each child learned how to look at his or her surroundings with new eyes.
SEEING THEIR BACKYARD WITH NEW EYES.  San Salvador Sea Campers took photos during their week of  studying their environment. (photo taken from BREEF Facebook page)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Did any of the Sea Campers’ photos surprise you?

SANDY VOEGELI: Absolutely! The kids took amazing photos and improved their photography skills throughout the week. My personal favorite was one photo taken of the old dock illustrating the compositional rule of thirds they had learned in the classroom and showing interesting colors and textures.
FOLLOWING THE RULE OF THIRDS. This image of the old dock on San Salvador is a favorite of Sandy Voegeli's taken by a San Salvador Sea Camper who used one of the techniques from Sandy's photography PowerPoint lesson. Sandy asks the students to think about the following: 1) What catches your eye (color, shape, texture) 2) What is in your picture (composition) 3) Placement of subject (rule of thirds). In addition, to these tips, she introduces the concept of Fibonacci Numbers, so students get a chance to explore how these numbers appear systematically in nature.
PHOTOGRAPHY WINNERS AT SAN SALVADOR SEA CAMP. Sandy Voegeli,  left, presented the three winners of the SEA CAMP photography contest with prizes.(photo taken from BREEF Facebook page)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: How did you use film?

SANDY VOEGELI: Last year in SEA CAMP 2011, each SEA CAMP group made a public service announcement about the importance of sharks. Students learned the role that sharks play in the ecosystem and their economic importance for tourism. In the past year, the Bahamas passed legislation to protect all sharks being the global leader in that area.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: So San Salvador Sea Campers were making movies about current conservation issues in the news and learning how to express that information in film. Wow!

SANDY VOEGELI: This year we had the Sea Campers work together to make one public service announcement to promote the establishment of a national land and sea park at San Salvador. They learned about the special animals and their habitats and why they should be protected for future generations.

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Sea Campers have had the opportunity to get hands on experience studying these areas that will be protected by a national park—Pigeon Creek, Graham’s Harbour, and Green’s Bay. That’s great. [This public service announcement will be posted when BREEF finishes editing it]

What else do you have in your creative teaching bag for making science fun and meaningful at San Salvador SEA CAMP?

SANDY VOEGELI: I am extremely excited about the book you illustrated about an endangered animal called a hutia-- “The Misadventure of Maria the Hutia.” This book was written by Ron Shaklee and based on the animal characters in his song and beautifully illustrated by you, Hallelujah Truth (aka Ruth Schowalter).
THE MISADVENTURES OF MARIA THE HUTIA. This book was written and illustrated because of Sandy Voegeli's insistence that children needed stories to be told about endangered species in the Bahamas. Therefore, Ron Shaklee's  Living Jewels song grew into an extended story about a little brown furry rodent previously thought to be extinct in the Bahamas but was found to be living on several remote Bahamian cays. As the wife of a scientist (Tony Martin) who does research and teaches classes on San Salvador, I became friends with Sandy and her mission. I agreed to illustrate Ron's book because of my own commitment to educational scientific outreach. We now have it for sale here. We plan for every child on San Salvador to have a copy. In addition, are donating 10 percent of the profits to the nonprofit organization Living Jewels that will support San Salvador's marine park once it is established. (photo by Ron Shaklee)
The need for conservation and sustainability is shown through the animal characters’ plight for survival and provides the Sea Campers with an empathetic glimpse of these special animals. The children become closer to these animals and come to understand we are all part of this planet, and we affect one another.

In addition to reading “The Misadventures of Maria the Hutia,” and coloring images from the book, I can see Sea Campers possibly acting out a play using excerpts from Maria the hutia’s journey.

COLORING THE MAP OF MARIA'S JOURNEY.  Sandy brought some enlargements of my illustrations from The Misadventures of Maria the Hutia for Sea Campers to see and color if they liked while listening to lectures. Here you can see the inset of the island of San Salvador on the map of Maria's journey from Wax Cay up to Nassau and back again. San Salvador is so far out on the Bahamian platform, I couldn't place it on the map with the chain of other Bahamian islands. However, I wanted to be sure San Salvador was on the map because it was the reason for writing and illustrating the story of Maria the hutia.(photo by Sandy Voegeli)
MARIA THE HUTIA ILLUSTRATION. San Salvador Sea Campers pose with an enlarged illustration from The Misadventures of Maria the Hutia outside the conference room on the Gerace Research Centre. They had fun in SEA CAMP coloring it and reflecting on Maria's journey to find her home island, which was not yet destroyed by humans. (photo by Sandy Voegeli)

ABOUT SANDY VOEGELI. Sandy is a dive master, photographer, and teacher. Sharing the incredible underwater world through her photography, she has sold numerous cards of her work, shown in exhibits in Georgia and Montana, and been published cover photos in numerous publications. In January 2012, two of her images appeared in the new Bahamian marine stamp series. Her photos taken from around San Salvador provided inspiration to Ruth Schowalter in the illustrations she made for The Misadventures of Maria the Hutia. Sandy enjoys sharing information with others through teaching whether it be math, yoga, marine conservation, or photography. She recently moved to Carmel Valley in California with her husband Vince, and son Hans. Her daughter Elyse is currently studying through Tufts at the University of Ghana in Africa. 
PHOTOGRAPHER, MASTER DIVER, TEACHER. Sandy Voegeli teaches what she knows how to do. She has a keen eye, sharp mind, and creative way to teach children how to understand the world that surrounds them. (photo by Clare Cottreau)

Read another San Salvador SEA CAMP blog entry that I wrote:
Teaching Children the Science of Looking in Their Own Backyard: Sea Camp at San Salvador, Bahamas 2012

Other Hallelujah Truth blog entries about San Salvador:


April 1, 2012

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