A group of Vernon Center Middle School alumni recently returned to BIOS for a reunion weekend, connecting with former classmates, making new friends, and revisiting field trip sites around the island. Ed Argenta (first row, far right) has been bringing students to BIOS for 40 years and organized the trip largely through social media and word-of-mouth in response to student feedback received over the years.
Ed Argenta, a teacher consultant with the Connecticut Geographic Alliance, first came to BIOS almost 40 years ago when he was teaching science at Vernon Center Middle School in central Connecticut. At the time, his colleague Duffy Brookes, had been taking groups of students to BIOS since 1970 as part of an advanced marine studies program. In 1979, Brookes invited Argenta on one of these weeklong “Vernon Bermuda Workshop” trips and, since then, the pair have brought at least one group of students—and sometimes two or more—every year to BIOS for a course in tropical island ecology and ocean science studies.
For many years, former participants had casually mentioned to Argenta that they would be interested in a reunion. “Usually it was only one or two,” Argenta said, “but, for some reason, last year I received an unusually large number of requests and I posted the idea to the Vernon Bermuda Workshop Alumni Facebook page.” As the positive responses poured in, all that remained for Argenta was to work with BIOS to plan the logistics of the group’s visit.
Over the course of five days, starting on September 26, a group of 22 people (16 former students and an additional six spouses, partners, or close friends) re-lived their middle school experiences, repeating trips to many of the same locations around Bermuda, such as Whalebone Bay and Nonsuch Island.
For Argenta, the reunion offered a unique opportunity to see former students as adults. “It was great learning about all their successes at work and with their families,” Argenta said. “Each one had at least one story about how their trip changed them to help them achieve success, from gaining confidence in themselves to learning how to work in groups.” He added that, especially important to him, were the comments that consistently came up about how their original trip had been “the event of a lifetime.”
We spoke with three of Argenta’s former students attending the reunion—Laura DeLassus, Liesl Frese, and Lisa Rodriguez—about their history with the program and what it was like returning to BIOS as adults.
What year did you come to BIOS as a student? Was there anything particularly memorable about your experience?
DeLassus: I visited BIOS in 1994 as an 8th grader and again in 1997 as a high school student, when I completed an internship with the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo (BAMZ). I was 14 on my first visit and what made the biggest impression was realizing that this was a place where people actually came to study. I was amazed at how much more interesting the lab spaces at BIOS were compared to my middle school science labs, and being able to see what “serious” scientists did in real life made it much more interesting to me than being in a classroom full of uninterested teenagers.
Frese: I came to BIOS in May 1987 when I was in 8th grade. I have so many strong memories! I loved snorkeling and learning about the plants on the island, and we had a challenging and competitive orienteering project. Bonding with my classmates while we went through these experiences was unforgettable and the memories we created have stuck with me, even after all these years.
Rodriguez: I’ve been to BIOS three times: first as an 8th grader in 2001, then as an intern with BAMZ in 2004, and again as a chaperone for the Vernon Bermuda Workshop trip in 2011. There were lots of things that stuck with me, but the most useful were the actual skills I gained as a student. The day we spent in Whalebone Bay doing various scientific investigations didn’t seem like work at the time, but once I went to college and was in an actual botany lab, I realized the trip instilled some very basic, but very important, scientific skills and behaviors that made my future career as a scientist much easier.
What motivated you to attend the reunion?
DeLassus: I was interested from the start, but I honestly wasn’t sure if I could make it happen. One of the things that motivated me to find a way to attend was the opportunity to share a small bit of this experience with my husband. I got the feeling that many of the returning participants were excited to show their partners what it was like.
Frese: I heard about the reunion through a Facebook message from Ed Argenta. I quickly forwarded the information to three of my closest friends, who also went on this trip in 8th grade. We immediately agreed that we were “in.” Back in middle school we thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but here was the chance to do it again and re-live our past experiences.
Rodriguez: I wanted to come on the reunion trip to reabsorb the places I went as a teenager and without the responsibility of being a chaperone and keeping track of 20 kids. I also just wanted to hang around with the fun, “nerdy” adults who also chose to come back.
How did your visit this time compare with your experience when you were in middle school? Did you find that your perspective changed?
DeLassus: It’s interesting to see things again that you remember one way, but are now completely different. There were a lot of things that were exactly the same though. I wandered around Wright Hall for a bit and found the room I’d originally stayed in just based on how the hallway looked. I will say that I definitely have more appreciation for what an amazing opportunity this was for 8th graders. It was also great to get to interact with Ed and the other participants as adults, instead of always viewing him as an authority figure. Although, let’s be honest, we still mostly view him that way.
Frese: Coming back as an adult was neat because we got a better understanding of the scope of the planning and work that our teachers put into the trip back then. This time around I only knew my two friends from back in middle school, but—similar to that trip—I made many new friends and bonded with a group of people who have a similar passion for Bermuda, marine life, and history. Plus, this time we got to visit the on-campus bar, The Passing Wind, and The Swizzle Inn—two things we’d only heard rumors about when we were kids.
Rodriguez: This visit was much more relaxed than the middle school trips, partially because Ed didn’t need to constantly account for people now that we are adults. Almost every place we went I’d see something and remember a specific event that happened there which I’d almost completely forgotten about.
In what field are you currently employed?
DeLassus: I’m currently in the service and hospitality industry. Even though I studied science throughout college, I kind of “fell into” this job and discovered how much I like it. I would say the skills of observation and social interaction that Ed and his team started to teach us as 8th graders has served me well in this career.
Frese: I’m now a social worker with Women’s Health at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
Rodriguez: I’m a contract biologist who monitors marine construction for interactions with endangered species, mostly sea turtles, sturgeon, shorebirds, and whales. A good chunk of what I do is mitigation to prevent any endangered species from interaction with construction equipment. My trips to Bermuda helped me realize there are people out there doing this kind of work and reaffirming my ability to be part of that community.