Marine Adventure: 2018 Catalina Learning Journey

While the ninth and tenth grade classes travel to southern California together, they embark on very different journeys. The groups take separate boats to separate parts of Santa Catalina Island; and their programs have different learning goals and very different structures.

“Catalina offers a unique opportunity for students to engage in marine science at a professional working institution with hands-on experience both in the water and in the lab,” commented teacher Dr. Nicole Tervalon. “They explore numerous aquatic and near-shore environments, engage in citizen science observation programs and learn about conservation as it relates to the marine environment.”

Seventy-five percent of the ninth grade marine biology curriculum is completed before students arrive on Catalina. On the island students engage in three exercises to complete the lab portion of their course requirements. The rest of their time is spent in leadership and character-building activities designed to push them out of their comfort zones and prepare them for doing research in the water.

They practice kayaking so that the following year they can take data on their very first kayak excursion and feel comfortable with the equipment and skills. The curriculum is structured to allow students to face their fears, whether it is on a challenging high ropes course, climbing wall or immersed in the ocean.

The tenth grade completes a portion of its curriculum at school before the trip. They also participate in an advanced laboratory course in honors oceanography on Catalina, in a program offered through the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and Marine Science Center. One new addition is having tenth grade students present their oceanography 20Time projects at the research facility.

The students spend a day and a half studying oceanographic engineering (and building remotely operated vehicles) with Tervalon, who holds a degree in this subject from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Night snorkels, counting leopard sharks, and collecting data in a marine protected area were just some of the activities sophomores experienced,” shared teacher Nicole Culbertson. “Students were in the water every day conducting research such as ethogram studies, examining bioluminesence or observing garibaldi territorial behavior. They put in 12-hour days identifying microorganisms collected in plankton, performing transects in the intertidal zone and collecting and recording data to support ongoing work.”

“Overall,” Tervalon said, “It is a magical experience that ties our commitment to experiential learning to academic excellence in a truly enriching way.”

Photos by Lisa Catterall and Sara Sobkoviak

Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Director of Marketing and Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.