CFISD educator, student return from memorable JASON Argonaut Expedition

August 1, 2017

Students measuring sea turtle.
Smith Middle School alumna and incoming Bridgeland High School freshman Smitha Bhagavatula helps measure a sea turtle near the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas. Bhagavatula and Arnold Middle School teacher Tiffany Schmidtendorff attended the research expedition July 13-20 as Argonauts through the Chevron-sponsored JASON Learning program. (Photo courtesy JASON Learning) 

August 1, 2017—A Smith Middle School alumna and Arnold Middle School teacher recently returned from a summer science expedition as Student and Educator Argonauts through Chevron’s JASON Learning program.

Bridgeland High School incoming freshman Smitha Bhagavatula and Arnold Middle School science campus content instructional specialist Tiffany Schmidtendorff were among a select group of Argonauts who traveled to the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas for a weeklong expedition July 13-20.

Arnold Middle School teacher Tiffany Schmidtendorff and incoming Bridgeland High School freshman Smitha Bhagavatula join a fellow Argonaut in analyzing data during the Chevron’s JASON Learning program July 13-20 in The Bahamas.
Arnold Middle School teacher Tiffany Schmidtendorff and incoming Bridgeland High School freshman Smitha Bhagavatula join a fellow Argonaut in analyzing data during the Chevron’s JASON Learning program July 13-20 in The Bahamas. (Photo courtesy JASON Learning) 

They participated in an intensive hands-on research experience with resident and visiting scientists and engaged in a diverse number of marine science projects. The Argonauts spent their days on outdoor excursions such as exploring the island’s scenic bodies of water, cliff jumping into the Atlantic Ocean, participating in interactive field educational lessons and documenting their experiences in journals and with blogs.

For Bhagavatula and Schmidtendorff, their days were filled with wall-to-wall action that included snorkeling and sea turtle research, in addition to other social and bonding activities.

Arnold Middle School teacher Tiffany Schmidtendorff takes a second a smiles for the camera while holding a sea turtle near the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas.
Arnold Middle School teacher Tiffany Schmidtendorff takes a second a smiles for the camera while holding a sea turtle near the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas. (Photo courtesy JASON Learning) 

“The schedule was very busy but I was so excited and interested that the time flew by,” Schmidtendorff said. “Cape Eleuthera Institute is an Environmental and Marine Biologist’s dream. CEI promotes a connection between people and the environment. The institute focuses on sustainability, conservation, education and research.”

 Schmidtendorff, who attended the surprise ceremony for Bhagavatula after the teacher was surprised herself in April, learned more of the rising freshman and her inquisitive nature.

Smith Middle School alumna and incoming Bridgeland High School freshman Smitha Bhagavatula (green shirt) joins two fellow Argonauts in jumping into the water near the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas.
Smith Middle School alumna and incoming Bridgeland High School freshman Smitha Bhagavatula (green shirt) joins two fellow Argonauts in jumping into the water near the Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas. (Photo courtesy JASON Learning) 

“Smitha is an incredible young lady,” Schmidtendorff said. “Every evening, a scientist gave us a presentation and Smitha was not shy about asking questions. I was proud of her! Smitha is driven and is going to make a difference in the world.”

In addition to her thirst for seeking knowledge, Bhagavatula also showed Schmidtendorff and the other Argonauts her determination.

“The first day was the swim test and even though Smitha got water in her goggles, she finished strong,” Schmidtendorff said. “I am excited for Smitha to move on to high school and I cannot wait to see what Smitha does next.”

Eleven student-teacher teams for the program were from the Houston area, learning as part of a collaborative public-private partnership underwritten by Chevron looking to help the metropolitan community develop a sustainable and systematic solution to the need for high-quality effective science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Arnold Middle School teacher Tiffany Schmidtendorff and incoming Bridgeland High School freshman Smitha Bhagavatula were among 11 student-teacher teams from the Houston area to participate in the Chevron-sponsored JASON Learning program in July.
Arnold Middle School teacher Tiffany Schmidtendorff and incoming Bridgeland High School freshman Smitha Bhagavatula were among 11 student-teacher teams from the Houston area to participate in the Chevron-sponsored JASON Learning program in July. (Photo courtesy JASON Learning) 

Through a result of a nearly $250,000 grant from Chevron, the JASON curriculum was unveiled in CFISD beginning in 2013-2014.

The Argonaut expedition offers continued learning for students and educators to take with them to the classroom. Schmidtendorff highly encouraged fellow CFISD educators and students to apply to future Argonaut programs.

“JASON Learning is about the experience,” Schmidtendorff said. “As a JASON Argonaut, we learn science through experiences. We had scientists explain a problem and then give us a mission. When working with students, I think it’s important to keep the student interested. Students need to know why this information is relevant.

“I plan to use my JASON experience to reenact some of the same missions and tie it to students and their interests. At Cape Eleuthera, the institute gave me the opportunity to live what I teach.”

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