July 20, 2004 – Pantlegs rolled up, about two dozen youngsters from the John's Folly Learning Institute summer program waded into the waters near Annaberg Plantation to learn about life below the surface of the sea.
"It's interesting," Leia Liburd, 10, said as she gathered with her fellow students around V.I. National Park ranger Laurel Brannick-Trager.
The kids got up close and personal with a sea cucumber and other creatures Brannick-Trager fished from the shallow water.
"It throws up," she informed them as they peered into a plastic fish bowl containing the sea cucumber.
Next came a sea urchin sprouting all manner of material.
When Brannick-Trager asked why the sea urchin was covered with this stuff, she got her answer. "Camouflage!" the children answered, nearly in unison.
Things went swimmingly until a jellyfish sent about half the group toward shore. But they waded back out onto the flats to hear more about the sea.
While the youngsters were having a fun during a couple of hours away from the institute's headquarters in John's Folly, they also were finding things out about the world around them. "They're learning about what is here in our home," Alvis Christian said.
Christian is one of the institute's founders and is currently its president.
While there was a $33 registration fee for the summer program, most of the expenses for it and running the Institute are covered by the proceeds from food sales held about twice a month in Coral Bay.
Christian said they make about $215 each time they set up their tables at the intersection of Route 107 and the East End Road.
From V.I. National Park officials' perspective, outreach events such as this one introduce the children to the park "and may attract future park rangers," Beulah Dalmida-Smith said.
Dalmida-Smith is now the park's management assistant. After earning a bachelor's degree in marine biology from the University of the Virgin Islands and a master's degree in environmental science from Yale University, she started her career as a park ranger. After serving a stint as the territory's Planning and Natural Resources commissioner, she returned to the National Park Service — first on St. Croix, and then on her home island of St. John. She also serves on the John's Folly Learning Institute board.
The institute's summer program was shaped around park activities, Dalmida-Smith said. In addition to the marine excursion, the children went hiking and participated in other park-related activities.
Dalmida-Smith said she developed her own interest in the environment through a Julius E. Sprauve School environmental studies program. While that program no longer exists, the park's outreach programs have followed in its footsteps, she said.
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