On Oct. 3, 10 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from the Seaside Neighborhood School officially became certified as PADI Junior Scuba Divers.

The youth participated in Seaside’s Marine Discovery mentoring course begun in 2010, and they represent the program’s fifth graduating class.

The six week course includes three classroom sessions, followed by two swimming pool sessions, where the kids apply their “textbook” knowledge, getting acclimated to scuba equipment and breathing underwater for the first time.

New for the fall 2012 class was instruction and sponsorship by ScubaTech of Northwest Florida, a leading dive shop in Destin. After the instructor who launched the scuba program moved to south Florida, ScubaTech welcomed the opportunity to step in and introduce the youthful group to the world of diving. Greg Christie was the lead instructor, and divemaster Tim Steadman assisted with all in water sessions.

Another first for 2012 was that a Seaside School faculty member also took the opportunity to learn scuba. Balder Saunders is the school’s music teacher and a founding member of the popular local band, Dread Clampitt. By chance he was assigned as the school staff liaison to monitor the course. The first day of class Saunders expressed his desire to get certified some day.  Instructor Greg Christie then suggested that this would be the perfect time to take the course, so the teacher immediately became a student as well.

Week six of the course involves “open water” dives, where students perform a number of exercises that must be completed in a natural body of water.

After Tropical Storm Isaac closed Walton County schools for two days in August, all mentoring class sessions were postponed one week. For ScubaTech this complicated their original plan to hold the open water dives at the Destin jetties. The schedule of tides that day prohibited diving at the jetties during school hours.

Enter Vortex Spring in Ponce de Leon.  When contacted to see if the dive resort would accommodate the students, the folks at Vortex readily agreed to the visit.  They further offered to waive all entry fees for the group — very welcome news to all, as no such costs had been included in the course fee.

Conditions on the final dive day were ideal, with clear skies and temperatures in the 70s. Vortex’s clear spring waters are a frigid 68 degrees year round. Thick wetsuits and pleasant surface weather contributed to a very comfortable dive experience, so essential for young students new to the sport.

The youngest member of the class, a 6th grader, had to overcome a rather traumatic yellow jacket sting upon arrival at Vortex. After swelling subsided and it became clear there were no allergy concerns, the determined diver persevered and completed the entire regimen of exercises.

Several students expressed interest in continuing their education to the next level — Junior Open Water Diver.  At age 15 they can become certified as adults by completing a little more course work and several additional dives.  Until then they must dive in the company of a certified instructor or divemaster.



The Seaside Neighborhood School is a charter public middle school in Seaside, Fla., offering mentoring programs that range from culinary arts and drama to firefighting and wakeboarding.

For more information about Seaside Neighborhood School programs, call 850-231-0396, or visit www.seasideschool.net.

ScubaTech of Northwest Florida is a full service scuba diving facility in Destin F;a. They offer a complete range of dive excursions, beginner and advanced instruction, equipment rental, sales and service, including online product sales.  850-837-2822, www.scubatechnwfl.com.

Vortex Spring is the premier inland dive resort on the Gulf Coast and the largest scuba diving facility in the state of Florida. 850-836-4947, www.vortexspring.com.