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Mayport Middle School students are getting their equipment ready for work with MSRI.

MSRI teaming with Mayport Middle School in river plankton study

Students at the Mayport Middle School are beginning work with the Marine Science Research Institute in a collaboration to study plankton in the St. Johns River.

The six-month project, funded by a grant to Mayport Middle School from the State Farm Insurance Youth Advisory Board, will give the young students access to JU faculty, students and equipment to learn how to identify and study the plankton and how changes in the river affect the plankton.

“Our students will be learning about plankton, learning about Florida Science standards by interacting with scientific research and their data is used by the community,’’ Mayport Middle School science teacher Jill Sullivan, the grant project manager, said. “The data we are compiling will be given to the St. Johns Riverkeeper, JU and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and will consist of water quality conditions as well as what organisms we are finding and what their diversities are and if they change seasonally.’’

Learning has already started for the students as they wrote the grant request, designed the project, created a budget.

“They had to be involved in writing the proposal and explain why our project is meaningful to community service, time line, what they are going to do as a team to engage the community,’’ Sullivan said.

The students not only will have the benefit of learning from JU faculty in class room study, but will be working the river on the Larkin, JU’s research vessel. They got a taste of their project late last week on a trip to campus and some preliminary work at the river side. They will begin work on the Larkin next month with once-a-month voyages through the remainder of the school year.

“We are trying to get as many kids as possible and we plan to learn from JU faculty,’’ Sullivan said. “They are going to train us on how to identify them properly, use proper sample techniques and plan on coming there once a month for six months. We’re taking 44 students and will go out on the Larkin. We take a plankton two net and two from in front of JU to in front of new YMCA (in Riverside).’’

Each boat day will last four hours with a group of 22 students going out the first two hours and the second group to follow with a like time. While one group is on the water, the other group will be in the JU lab for instruction.

Sullivan said working with JU is key to her school’s big picture.

“Our goal is to have kids who want to attend college or get exposure to college and see they are capable of doing that,’’ she said. “Anytime we can cultivate genuine scientific curiosity and have those kids see the projects it is a benefit for everybody. It is important to us to work with and support the area colleges.’’

Dr. Quinton White, director of MSRI, said his staff is up to the challenge.

“The most difficult part for us will be to get them started and in the area of quality control,’’ he said. “This is a very exciting project for us. We’ve worked with Mayport Elementary School for years and we’ve worked with Mayport Middle as a resource for science projects.’’

White noted there is potential long-term benefit for JU.

“Students can be in contact with MSRI from kindergarten through getting a master’s degree with projects such as these,’’ he said. “That benefits both the public schools and JU.’’