The Seaside Neighborhood School mentoring program offers instruction in architecture, culinary arts, dentistry, fire fighting, lifeguard training and other diverse subjects, including "Marine Discovery" — or scuba diving.
Mentoring courses last six weeks, with groups meeting for 90 minutes each Wednesday morning. Introduced in 2010, the Marine Discovery scuba program is unique in that students earn a lifelong certification from PADI, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors.
In October, nine 6th and 7th grade students officially became PADI Junior Scuba Divers. The class represents the youngest group to ever complete the program. Mentoring slots are awarded by seniority, and 8th graders usually fill the class.
Course graduates are Hanna Brooks, Lee John Lischka, Trip Martin, Gracie Neville, Elijah O'Brien, Kevin Stoddard, Georgia Williams, Mac Williams and Jake Woods.
In former scuba courses, students learned textbook content in three classroom sessions, followed by two swimming pool sessions and a final day of open water dives. While fun and recreational, learning scuba can be demanding, particularly for such youthful students. With only two pool sessions, students were sometimes challenged to master certain in-water skills. The pace was somewhat rushed when such classes are intended to be stress-free and relaxed.
ScubaTech of Destin, who instructs the course, proposed a new approach to Marine Discovery with the introduction of PADI's eLearning program for this fall semester. With eLearning students completed the "academic" work at their own pace at home prior to the first day of class, with approximately 6 hours of online instruction. Instructor Greg Christie reviewed and quizzed them on the material in a single classroom session.
The eLearning program freed up time for four swimming pool sessions, allowing students to practice and master breathing under water and other essential skills at a comfortable and leisurely pace.
As the final week of the program approached, ScubaTech was pleased to discover that the tide schedule and weather conditions would be favorable to allow for a boat dive at the Destin East Pass Jetties for completion of open water skills review. Calm waters, minimal wind and good visibility greeted students, chaperones and staff as they boarded ScubaTech's custom "Mongoose" pontoon boat. Each diver passed their "final" with no difficulties.
Graduates now have the opportunity to take a few hours of extra training to gain "Junior Open Water Diver" certification, which would allow them to dive deeper with fewer restrictions. At age 15 students can eliminate the "Junior" distinction with a little additional instruction.