RPA Students Immerse Themselves in Oceanic Summer Session

In a unique partnership with the University of California at Davis, the Redmond Proficiency Academy (RPA) is offering a two-week course for students called “Blue Humanities – Ocean Stories.” Co-taught by RPA humanities teacher Matt Killpack and former RPA English teacher and now UC Davis English graduate student George Hegarty, the class, which runs from May 30 through June 8, is designed to encourage students to think differently in the classroom.

“The ocean covers about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface,” said Hegarty. “But most of us don’t get up every morning wondering what that means in terms of the relationship between human and nonhuman species and the sea. With this class, we’re giving students the opportunity to question, to slow down, to disorient their typical thinking practices –– to think oceanically.”

Carter Hale, a junior enrolled in the course, said, “I am excited about this course because we’ve looked at the ocean’s status through multiple different lenses that keep our opinions well rounded and keep the class interesting.” 

Working together as a ship’s crew, the students and teachers will navigate three phases of learning over 50-plus hours of instruction. Through studying various media, the first part of the class introduces students to various ways of thinking about the ocean. Students then use that knowledge to collaboratively construct and report on a case study of a specific coastal site. The class culminates in a trip to the Oregon Coast, where students visit OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Newport Aquarium to learn from people who live and work on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Senior Leah O’Hearn noted the course’s interdisciplinary approach. “I have really enjoyed this class so far and loved thinking in a new way, such as learning about the major human impacts on the ocean while bringing in new ways of thinking with humanities components,” she said.

As a native of Lincoln City, Killpack feels a connection to the course. “Growing up on the Oregon Coast helped me to understand the importance of the ocean and its ecology,” he said. From monthly beach clean-ups to playing safe on the beach, learning about the ocean was a constant in my life. Living in Central Oregon, the students don’t often have the opportunity to learn about the ocean first-hand, so I’m excited to share my stories and help them learn more about that precious environment.”

The project emerged from a grant from The Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Fellowships at Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay, Calif. that requested proposals for, according to the organization’s website, “interdisciplinary, innovative, and highly collaborative projects that would become a key component of their dissertation.” 

RPA Executive Director Jon Bullock explained that partnerships of this nature are integral to the school’s vision. “Part of the magic of learning is providing students with unique opportunities to discover the world around them,” Bullock said. “RPA has a history of working with professionals in their field to engage students in real-world learning experiences. This partnership is the epitome of that commitment.” 

Bodega Bay.

“As far as I know, this is the only class of its kind in the country,” said Hegarty. “For me, it’s important for high school students to be able to have these types of learning experiences. I’m really grateful to RPA and the Bodega Marine Laboratory for the opportunity to make this class happen for these students.”

Junior Norah Appleby echoed Killpack and Hegarty’s hopes for the course, saying, “I’m most excited about viewing the ocean as more than just a body of water. I’ve learned that it’s a way of life, and the more I know about it the more I see that it is one of the most important things for our livelihood.”

Hegarty is hoping that the class will continue to develop and evolve. “I see RPA as an incubator for innovative teaching and learning practices,” he said. “I feel that implementing the curriculum here first and then making it widely available for instructors around the world is a great start to encouraging people to think of the ocean as a space for creative, collaborative problem solving.” 

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