Teachers and students outside the new Ocean Studies Charter School at MM 100 bayside, Key Largo. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Just over 90 students at Ocean Studies Charter School transitioned from their virtual classrooms at home to desks and chairs inside a new facility in Key Largo on Sept. 14. 

Construction of Ocean Studies school at MM 100 bayside was finished last month as teachers prepared their new classrooms for the students’ return. Principal Trisha Woods said it’s been six months since teachers and staff have seen the little learners in person, waving goodbye to them at the former facility in Tavernier earlier in the year. 

Not only were teachers and students face-to-face, but they were also able to begin a new era of learning inside a state-of-the-art school. 

“Even though we will be social distancing in classrooms, we’re just excited to see everybody,” Woods said. 

Work on the building, led by CBT Construction, started in May as the former Fountain Plaza building was transformed into classrooms, a marine lab, office and hallways. The project began in November 2018 with a capital campaign kickoff in a bid to buy a facility, build classrooms and equip a marine science lab and outdoor space to learn and play. By December 2019, Ocean Studies had various sites on their list of landing spots. Project costs are around $3 million. 

With construction of five classrooms also comes a new, upgraded marine lab to provide students with an innovative learning experience. The school’s success lies in its marine science program and weekly field labs that ensure all students explore and interact with the natural environment. 

Walls are painted in the school’s colors, while fish-shaped seats made out of recycled ocean plastic are positioned in each classroom. In the hallway, a painting of Florida Keys coral will decorate the walls. 

Inside the facility, teachers and students are wearing masks throughout the day as a safety measure due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Woods said they’re requesting students wear masks with ear loops so they aren’t slipping off their noses. Learners will be distanced from each other in the classroom, and cleaning is occurring twice a day. 

“Since we’re starting with half days for the first three weeks, we’re having our cleaning company clean over lunch time and the evening to make sure that all surfaces are cleaned down and everyone’s safe,” Woods said. 

Woods said she’s thankful to the local companies and community members for all their help in making the new Ocean Studies Charter School a special place for the next generation of learners. The school is looking to incorporate a middle school so students can continue the passion for the environment to high school. That phase isn’t expected to be completed until August 2021. 

With goals to preserve and protect a fragile South Florida environment, Ocean Studies Charter School is providing a foundation to encourage students to become scientists, writers, free thinkers and guardians of the water. The school is nationally designated as an Ocean Guardian School by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s also listed as a Green School by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 

“The school board is laser-focused on doing the best we can for the kids,” David Thompson, Ocean Studies school board president, told the Weekly in June. “We’re just super glad to be part of making education more accessible to more Upper Keys students. That’s why we’re moving to this space.”

The Sea Stars room for kindergarten and first-grade students.
First and second grade teachers Stephanie Basca, foreground, and Sarah Naylor.

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