STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — Wednesday is field-trip day, so teacher David Werner introduced the day’s lesson from the front seat of a yellow mini-bus making its way last month to the Bayfarm clam farm in West Creek.

The farm sustained serious damage during Hurricane Sandy, owner John Schriever said Friday, but students were able to see the farm in operation before the storm hit.

A science teacher at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, or MATES, Werner is expected not just to teach science to his high school students, but apply it. Once a week students go into the field, or the marsh, or the bay, sometimes in the school’s boat, in search of science.

“The clam farm is not on the Barnegat Bay, it’s on Great Bay,” Werner explained as students in his freshman biology class jotted notes in their journals.

“Great Bay is one of the most pristine bays on the East Coast,” he added. “Anyone know why?”

There’s silence, then a tentative suggestion about development.

“That’s right,” Werner said. “There is very little development here. It’s the opposite of Barnegat Bay and it’s a great place to grow clams.”

Founded in 2001 as an academy program within the Ocean County Vocational Technical School system, MATES focus is science and math with an emphasis on the marine and environmental issues integral to Ocean County.

“We make good use of the bay,” school Superintendent William Hoey said.

This year MATES was named a U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School. With excellent state test scores and SAT scores averaging above 600 in both math and language arts, admission to MATES has become as competitive as some colleges. The school accepts just 70 freshmen per year from more than 250 applicants from around the county.

Hoey said he would like to expand, but right now it would be too expensive.

The curriculum is rigorous. The school operates on a block schedule with two semesters so students typically take two science and math courses each year, in addition to the standard English, history, Spanish, art, health and physical education. The program is 40 credits a year, and some courses are eligible for dual credit from Ocean County College, which uses the school for its classes in the evenings. Some MATES teachers also teach courses at the college.

In addition to the traditional requirements, MATES students take aquatic ecology, biotechnology, oceanography, environmental science, computer science, economics and environmental issues.

“It is a school of choice, and students are motivated to do well,” said Alison Carroll, who has been principal for the last six years. “Some of them do have to mature into it. But they have to be here for their own motivation because they’ll fade fast if they’re not interested.”

Seniors preparing for college said they believe the field work they’ve done has better prepared them for college.

Joey DeLosa, 18, of Manahawkin, said he’s always liked science, and is a bit of a “hyper person” who doesn’t like to just sit in a classroom.

“The field work sounded cool,” said the senior who plans to study biomedical engineering in college.

“It is challenging, but also rewarding,” said David Etler, 17, of Manchester Township. “I’ve had field and lab experiences I wouldn’t have had in the regular high school.”

Shelly Applegate, 17, of Brick Township, also likes the small size of the school she calls a family.

“I had hoped it would be like this,” she said.

Students begin research in their freshmen year. Werner said the first biology project can be a challenge, but sets the tone for what is expected.

Sean Begane, 14, of Beachwood spent a recent lunch period looking at slides in Werner’s classroom for his project comparing two species of plants and how they grow in a developed and an undeveloped marsh.

“When I heard about this school, I said ‘Wow, what an amazing opportunity,’” said Begane, who wants to study oceanography.

He grabbed a small camera to take a photo of his slide. Werner said soon they’ll have microscopes with built-in LED screens thanks to a $10,000 grant he just received from Ocean First Bank’s Model Classroom Grant program.

At Bayfarm, Schriever showed students how clam seed goes from hatchery to nursery to the dinner table

“A littleneck clam is about one-and-a-half to three years old,” he said. Water is pumped in from the bay, and Schriever proudly demonstrated the used coffee-bean sorters he bought from Maxwell House to sort hard clam seed he sells to other farms.

Schriever opened a clam, and he and Werner gave a short lesson in clam anatomy. Schriever added a cooking lesson.

“We eat the whole thing,” he said.

Carly Cappelluzzo, of Bayville, graduated from MATES in 2005, studied environmental science at college and now works at the farm, helping raise about 20 million to 30 million clams a year.

“I grew up around the water and was always interested in this,” she said. MATES gave her the opportunity to turn her interest into a career.

Werner herded the group back to the bus, grabbing a bucket with some sea anemones and sea squirts to take back to class.

“That’s what we’re studying now,” he said.

As they headed down Great Bay Boulevard, student Stephen Opet spotted some egrets.

“Why are there so many?” he asked. “We’ve passed at least 10.”

“This is just an amazing habitat for them,” Werner said.

Back at school students will complete their journals, then write a reflection on the trip. Werner will plan how to include what they learned in classroom lessons.

“It’s just so much better when they can apply what they’re learning,” he said.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241