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Plunging Into Their Summer Studies

July 10, 1998|LESLEY WRIGHT

It may be the only kind of summer school a preteen could love.

During Thursday's class, for example, 12-year-old Bret Larson spotted a 5-foot-long bat ray.

"It's exactly what I wanted to see," said Bret, who sported a wetsuit and a golden summer tan. "It's black on top and white on the bottom so it's counter-shaded. It feeds on sand."

Thanks to other information he acquired from Irvine Unified School District's ocean workshop, he knew how to avoid the ray's nasty stinger.

"Just don't stop on it," the seventh-grader said.

Three aides and the two instructors who founded the course 10 years ago--Bill Brooks and Ken Watson--are on constant alert to make sure none of the 35 students in the class get too close to anything dangerous.

The 10-day course for students in grades 6 to 8 covers all aspects of marine sciences. The young divers learned how to use their neon-colored snorkeling gear and fins in University High School's swimming pool before heading to the beaches of San Clemente and Crystal Cove.

The course is always finished off with a huge fish fry, although the food comes mostly from the grocery store. All the creatures found in the ocean are taken out, studied and then thrown back into their natural habitats.

The class, which costs $155, is one of the only such courses offered by a public school district, Watson said.

The two instructors, both longtime divers and surfers, say the course is the best way to take advantage of Orange County's natural habitat.

"When we're down here on the beach, it's like a science workshop," Watson said. "This is the only school that puts kids into the ocean. . . . There are two rocky reefs, and they get to swim through kelp."

Among the day's sightings at Crystal Cove: a bright orange Garibaldi, a barred sand bass, a rubberlip surfperch, a sea anemone, a giant-spined star and a purple sea urchin.

Most of the students had never gone beyond the breaking waves at the edge of the surf before the class. So they all ride out to the sea en masse on Boogie and surf boards. It's a scary proposition for some.

"I conquered my fears a little because I was a little afraid," said Carolyn Joens, an 11-year-old sixth-grader. "It's been fun. I've learned a lot."

Brooks said he considers the plunge a worthwhile risk for the students.

"The neat thing is they are doing something they've never done before, and that's an esteem-builder," he said.

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