Mary Lacy Grecco is a different kind of student, and this Thanksgiving, she’s taking a different kind of vacation.
Grecco is one of 36 Academy of Science students who will give up her Thanksgiving break to attend an educational field trip along the Caribbean, from Saturday, Nov. 18, to Monday, Nov. 25.
The students will spend the Thanksgiving break at Gerace Research Center in San Salvador, Bahamas, to study the marine life there.
The Bahamian field station is located on the shore of Graham’s Harbour on the north coast of San Salvador, one of the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas Archipelago, off the coast of Florida.
The center, which opened in 1971, offers research facilities for students, professors and researchers from around the world to study in a tropical environment.
ACADEMY OF SCIENCE director George Wolfe has been going to the research facility since 1974, when he was an undergraduate student.
"I’ve been taking students there ever since," he said.
Wolfe described the students’ typical schedule over the course of the week.
Breakfast is served at 7 a.m. Then, the students will load up the facility’s trucks and head to a dive site.
"I’ve been all over the island and I know the best spots on any given day. Depending on the weather," he said.
Then, students will come back for lunch.
Afterward, they head back outside to snorkel again.
When students arrive back at the facility, they will have time to write in their journals about the day’s observations and then, go to class until 9 p.m.
Midweek, the students will take a break from the water and head into town. They will explore caves, visit a lighthouse, go out to lunch, and have a chance to buy souvenirs, Wolfe said. They will also attend a Bahamian service at a local church.
GRECCO, who has already explored the western coast of the Caribbean, is excited to snorkel along the east coast of San Salvador.
"I love snorkeling," she said.
The sophomores attending the trip sacrifice their lunch hour with friends to prepare for the educational trip.
"We have working lunches," Grecco said. "It's kind of a crash course in marine biology."
The lunch hour stuck in a classroom is no sacrifice for sophomore Aliyah Jamil, who dreams of being a marine biologist someday.
"I’m really into marine biology," she said. "It will be my first time out of the country and I can’t wait to see all of the different kinds of fish."
During the working lunches, Wolfe gives students the run down on what to pack and what to expect once they get to the eight-acre facility.
Grecco's already planned out what she will bring on the trip: sun screen and long sleeves.
"We're going to be in the sun all day," she said.
JENNIFER ANDREWS teaches integrated science and advanced placement (AP) environmental science at the Academy. She will be one of chaperones on the trip.
She said some students were concerned with missing out on a traditional turkey dinner over the holiday.
"I think [the Research Facility is] going to fly in a turkey for us!" she said. "From what I hear, the food is great."
Andrews said she is looking forward to giving students a hands-on science experience.
"It's one thing to show students a picture of disappearing coral," she said. "It's another thing to show it to them first hand."
"It makes you appreciate it," Grecco added.
Andrews, who received a bachelor's degree in environmental science, hopes to pass on her appreciation of nature to her students, through this trip.
THE SOPHOMORE CLASS helped open the Academy of Science last year.
The academy, located at Dominion High School in Sterling, offers students rigorous math and science courses, and has a working relationship with Howard Hughes Medical Center.
In its second year, Grecco said she sees a big difference in the academy.
"The first year we had to adjust to both the high-school setting and a brand new Academy of Science program," she said. "Now, we know what to expect. We're not guinea pigs anymore."
Grecco is enrolled in integrated science, a combination of chemistry, earth science and physics, an independent research course and math analysis, at the academy. At her home school, Potomac Falls High School, she takes honors English 10, AP world history, French III, driver's education and beginner guitar.
The sophomore said the bus drive to and from Dominion High School every other day is worth the disruption in her schedule.
"I get to work with the best of the best students," she said.