Education, conservation and hands-on learning at Jennette's Pier

12/18/2013
EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

Kids can catch a clearnose skate, build a solar-powered boat and feel sand between their toes while beachcombing for critters — all at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, N.C.

With its oceanfront location, sustainable design and dynamic education department, this state-owned fishing pier and education center offers unique learning opportunities for all ages.

Nearly 10,000 students from the mid-Atlantic region have visited Jennette’s Pier to learn how to fish, build a model wind turbine and collect plankton.

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Operated by the North Carolina Aquariums, this state-of-the-art facility was awarded United States Green Building Council’s platinum level certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in 2012.

Three iconic wind turbines stand tall on the 1,000-foot long, concrete and wood pier. There’s also a closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system, rainwater collection system, photo-voltaic solar panels and a reclaimed wastewater system.

The original wooden pier first opened for business in its current location in 1939. The new, massive, concrete pier and adjacent pier house reopened in May 2011. Since that time, several million people have visited the landmark to enjoy fishing, sightseeing, sun bathing, swimming, surfing, weddings, and more.

While such pastimes make for a super summer season, education, conservation and hands-on learning are central to the Jennette’s Pier mission. Education Curator Christin Brown has made it her mission to make learning fun.

Whether it’s students in a school group, a summer camper or a child learning to fish in the Family Fishing program, Brown knows how to keep it interesting.

She launched her now busy department two and half years ago with little more than an empty classroom, a closet full of fishing rods and a lot of positive energy. Today, her staff of expert educators and anglers teaches all ages about ethical fishing, wind and solar power, plankton and beach organisms. Brown has a knack for keeping smiles on students’ faces.

“We offer great opportunities for school groups to learn about science without realizing they are learning,” she said.

Fishing is perhaps students’ favorite activity. A group of high schoolers visited recently, some of who had never seen the Atlantic Ocean. A few reeled in skates, a prehistoric-looking creature considered great eating in some cultures, however, at Jennette’s most anglers simply throw them back.

The students crowded around the skate, stroking its skin and feeling the texture. Brown thinks it’s a much different experience than seeing an animal in a zoo or an aquarium.

“They get the opportunity for hands-on interaction,” she said. “It makes the experience more real and they realize animals like these are swimming in the ocean all around them.”

That’s when she hits them with the conservation message.

“It’s a way of emphasizing the importance of taking care of our aquatic resources.”

Students’ faces often light up when they hold an animal and safely release it.

Additional school group programs include Wind, Solar, Plankton and Beach Explorations.

Although Brown admits the wind and solar ideas were spawned from searches on the Internet, she’s truly made them her own. Take the solar boats for example.

“I did some research online and designed a program for students to experiment with solar energy,” she said. “They engineer something that runs on solar power.”

Beach Explorations allows students to feel sand under their feet and perhaps get a bit wet. What could be more interesting than searching for animals hidden in the sand and having Brown explain what they are and how they fit into the ecosystem?

Make plans today for a trip to Jennette’s Pier, where “fishin’ is catchin!”

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