Cape May County Technical High School senior Nate Horvath, even as he was being pelted with freezing rain, was glad to be out of the classroom.
Horvath and five other seniors spent their school days this week helping move oysters at the Rutgers Cape Shore Facility in Green Creek as part of a paid supervised learning experience.
“You can’t beat the hands-on experience, and being outside, even though the weather is not cooperating, is better than sitting in the classroom,” Horvath said.
Technicians at the Cape Shore Facility breed and raise disease-resistant oysters for sale to local fisheries. On Tuesday, the students tied up bags of these oysters and prepared them for transfer to Utsch’s Marina in Cape May, where they will be stored for the winter.
Cape Tech students in the natural sciences track have been assisting Rutgers technicians for more than 10 years through a relationship started by former teacher Hans Toft. He retired last year, leaving the class to his daughter, Hanna Toft.
Students at Cape Tech pick a learning track their sophomore year and follow a specialized curriculum for their remaining three years. Students in the natural sciences track learn about a variety of careers in that field through a combination of classroom work and hands-on experience.
The partnership between the school and the facility has already proven effective. Aaron Maffei, who supervised the students this week, is a 2012 graduate of Cape Tech and a graduate of its natural sciences program.
Maffei took part in the same learning experience as a senior, saying it was a highlight and that it directly helped him get his job after graduation.
“Getting out of school and getting paid? There’s nothing better,” Maffei said.
Students in the natural sciences track also learn about local ecology in Cape May County’s salt marshes. This spring, the students will construct osprey nests that will be placed in the marsh and will be used by future students to study the birds.
Many of the students are hands-on learners, Toft said, which makes them well-suited to these projects.
“Some learn more by doing,” she said. “They like being out in the field. Getting the experience means a lot more to them than sitting in a classroom taking notes.”
Senior Cezanne Czworkowski has taken every opportunity she could to get into the field. She spent her summer working at Rutgers’ Aquaculture Innovation Center in Port Norris, where she cultivated the algae eaten by oysters raised at the Cape Shore Facility.
As an aspiring Rutgers student with an interest in careers in the natural sciences, Czworkowski said there’s no better way to spend her time in school.
“It’s a really good experience,” Czworkowski said. “It’s awesome, and I think it’ll help me get there, and it’s a good start on something that I want to do in the future.”
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