It takes fourth grader Ariona Taylor a few minutes before she is ready to touch the horseshoe crab in the touch tank at the UGA Aquarium. With a few words of encouragement from Marine Education Fellow Rachel Wilson, Ariona takes a deep breath and places her hand on top of its carapace with a huge grin on her face.

Ariona, along with several of her classmates at Andrea B. Williams Elementary school, are visiting the UGA Aquarium for the first time through giving from Friends of the UGA Aquarium.

The charitable support provided scholarships for 100 underserved students in the Savannah-Chatham area to participate in a half day Estuary Exploration program led by marine educators and marine education fellows at the aquarium.

“This funding provides opportunities for students and teachers whose budgets do not allow for science-based field trips and experiential learning away from their school site,” says Anne Lindsay, associate director of marine education at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The program also adds to the learning done in the classroom and increases awareness of Georgia’s coastal environments.”

little kids in the marsh

Andrea B. Williams Elementary school students learn about salt marsh habitats and wildlife.

The Estuary Exploration program includes lab, field, and live animal experiences. During the program, students practice microscope and scientific observation skills while learning more about the natural world around them and their role in protecting coastal resources.

“You could see the ocean and all the animals,” says Ariona in explaining why exploring the salt marsh was her favorite part of the trip.

“Science is cool!” adds classmate Rawshawn Nix.

These hands-on educational experiences allow students to expand their knowledge of coastal habitats and become inspired to steward the resources of the natural environment in the Savannah area.