Like many events in 2020, the Bermuda Youth Library’s popular summer reading program went virtual in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was conceived as a way to encourage school-aged children to continue using their literacy skills over the long summer break. BIOS has participated in the community program since 2016 by giving presentations on a variety of science-related topics. This year, BIOS educator Kyla Smith gave a reading of “Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist” and shared a presentation focusing on sharks in Bermuda, before answering questions from families and children who attended the session.
In July, BIOS collaborated with the Bermuda National Library (BNL) to produce a virtual reading session for the Youth Library’s summer reading program. This program, designed to encourage school-aged children to continue using their literacy skills during the summer months, runs from late June through late August and consists of a variety activities and workshops that young readers can participate in to earn points for prizes.
BIOS educators have been taking part in this program since 2016 as a way to serve students under the age of 12 who are too young to participate in the traditional lab work and diving activities provided by BIOS education programs. In the past, Kaitlin Noyes, director of education and community engagement at BIOS, has gone to the youth library to give in-person readings on a range of topics, including the adaptations of ocean animals and oceanographic tools and technologies.
This year, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was held virtually. On July 15, BIOS educator Kyla Smith held a 45-minute Zoom session during which she read from “Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist,” an illustrated biography that describes the life of Eugenie Clark, an American fish biologist known for her research on shark behavior. Clark was an avid marine conservationist who pioneered the field of SCUBA diving for research purposes while working hard to clear sharks of their bad reputation.
This book holds a special place in Smith’s heart, as it was one of the first pieces of literature she read as a child that inspired her to become a marine biologist. She also believes the book has the power to inspire the next generation, especially young women and girls.
“It sends a very powerful and important message to young students,” she said. “Dr. Eugenie Clark was an inspiration for challenging people’s beliefs about sharks and highlighting their need for protection. But perhaps more importantly, she challenged the stereotypes surrounding women in science.”
After the reading, Smith shared a presentation focusing on sharks in Bermuda, such as the smooth dogfish, the sixgill shark, and the Galapagos shark. She highlighted the dramatic decline among all shark species since 1970 and the close relationship between sharks and the overall health of the marine ecosystem.
This session was attended by several families and finished with a flurry of questions, including: “How many babies do sharks have?” and “How long does a shark live?”
“The families loved it and we look forward to partnering with BIOS again,” said Marla Smith, youth services librarian for BNL. “Going forward I believe that virtual programming will be a part of our regular offering.”
Similarly, as summer programs have been cancelled or reconfigured, BIOS is fostering novel collaborations and developing new methods of teaching and connecting with students during these unprecedented times. Although many students are currently unable to experience the BIOS campus in-person, BIOS educators are providing resources and materials that allow at-home learning about science. Noyes is also interested in exploring backyard and beach science activities that families can enjoy together.
“Because we can’t participate in direct experiential learning with students, we have been engaging families in out-of-classroom learning,” Noyes said. “BIOS is invested in supporting parents and caregivers in engaging science experiences at home, and events like the virtual reading program are a great example of how we can help make science more accessible.”