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Scuba Diving in Brooklyn

Rays glide through an abundance of tropical fish. A moray eel watches. A scuba diver passes by... a tropical reef?... in Brooklyn?
Nine high school seniors from the Urban Assembly New York City Harbor School have been certified to dive at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.
ROGER WILLIAM, DIVE SAFETY OFFICER, NEW YORK AQUARIUM: It’s the only place where you can dive coral reef right off the F-Train.
LIV DILLON, LEAD DIVE INSTRUCTOR: When I took the kids to go dive there for the first time, one of our students, Justin Rosales, looked down at the water and he went, “I’ve never dove with fish before.”
FATIMA MOATAZ, SENIOR:The minute I went in the water, like my head in the water, I was like “Whoa, this is epic…like, this is so cool!”
KEVIN MAJIA, SENIOR: Seeing all these tropical fish that I usually saw in the Bahamas and seeing them here in New York in a tank…it was almost like a dream.
JOSEPH GESSERT, DIVE SAFETY OFFICER: I mean, New York City is completely surrounded by water but most of its citizens barely have any access to it. So Harbor School started with a mission of bringing kids to the water and making them the ones that were there to protect and restore the water.
New York Harbor School is a public high school on Governors Island and we teach a normal regent high school curriculum that’s centered around restoring the harbor and learning maritime careers.
In the winter we can’t dive in New York Harbor. It’s too cold to be safe. The aquarium allows our kids to continue logging dives throughout the winter. We’ve been diving at the aquarium just for a few months. It’s one of those real-world things that the kids can do where they actually take the skills they’ve learned in school and they apply it to something that has to get done.
Students are primarily at the aquarium scrubbing the algae off of the artificial coral that’s there. The aquarium has divers in their exhibits daily cleaning off the algae and without that cleaning, the algae would take over the exhibits: obscure the fish, make it hard for anybody to see what was going on in there.
But they’re also interacting with the public and I think that’s what the kids enjoy the most on some level…is being able to go up to that window and wave at that little kid and blow that little bubble.
ERICK SOLIS, SENIOR: You just feel...feel different, feel special about it. I really love this class. I adore it.
They think the fish and the people can’t see them and it’s really surprising when you wave at them and you point and you put your hand on the glass and there’s a six-year-old kid who puts their hand right where your hand is.
It’s really amazing to see New York City kids, some of them who are having a really hard time academically, transform into superheroes for little kids by just entering a tank and doing a few stunts.
It’s a really golden opportunity to help these kids perhaps go into a career that they wouldn’t otherwise have even thought of.
The kids get out of this…first and foremost they love it. Um, it keeps them coming to school. It keeps them engaged in a senior year that often sees kids dropping off or sometimes dropping out. Um, attendance for these aquarium sessions is 100%.
JUSTIN ROSALES, SENIOR: When I’m under the water is when I really get to think. I’m, like, really in touch with my thoughts. I don’t think I would have that experience anywhere else.
DANIEL VEGA, SENIOR: It gave me a humungous chance, you know, and every day I’m kind of grateful for that. Because, you know, a lot of kids don’t have the opportunity. Like, you don’t hear a kid, like, every day saying “Yeah, I scuba dive.”

Source: nytimes

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