A Teacher Brings Scuba to the Classroom
By: Dan Semrad
Submerged in Education
I started scuba diving later than many. I am from Oregon, and while I always loved being in and around the water, I was never around divers or realized it was something that “real people” did. While working on my master’s degree, I got to work with a cooperating teacher who was a scuba instructor, and I jumped at the chance to breathe underwater. I was in my first year of teaching high school science at a private school when I got the opportunity to get certified. I immediately thought of how impactful this could be in my classroom and was completely hooked. Over the next few years, I continued my training, started assisting in classes, and ultimately earned my instructor certification.
High School Scuba Class
Fast forward many years, and I had become fortunate enough to teach at an incredible public charter school in Oregon City. Our school is Clackamas Academy of Industrial Science, or CAIS for short. The first number of years CAIS existed, I was the only science teacher and enjoyed having every student from the school come through my classroom multiple times! As the school grew, I was encouraged to create new course offerings, and one of the first classes I started was a high school science class called SCUBA. I was excited about this class as it offered science credit at the high school level, college credit, and a chance for students to earn SCUBA certifications. I loved teaching this course and seeing students who had struggled in more traditional science classes become leaders in this class.
I ran that course for three years before I took three years out of the classroom to be the Freedive Training Coordinator for an interagency collaboration for PFI. This last school year was my third year back in my classroom, and at the start of the school year, our new principal asked me about the SCUBA class we used to have at CAIS and asked if I would like to bring it back. Freediving had been my focus for the last six years, but I told my administrator that I would be excited to teach SCUBA again in this format if we could change a few things from how it was done in the past.
Taking Scuba Outside the Classroom
We started working on ways to make diving outside of class more accessible to our students, and our first big victory was getting grant money that allowed us to acquire student equipment, meaning no more rental fees for our students! We had many students who were incredibly excited about being able to take scuba but were worried about schedule conflicts if practical portions were needed outside of the school day. Fortunately, we coordinated with our city pool (which happens to be right across the street) to accommodate confined water time during our regular class period. All the pieces were coming together for our class.
As the semester started, we ran into numerous challenges that ultimately kept us from being able to complete certifications on our first round. Still, we learned a lot and had a significant course. Our first and biggest hurdle was ordering our equipment and getting them in our building. Even though we had grant money, many logistics went into the school district, releasing those funds and approving purchase orders.
Making Changes: Scuba Divers to Free Divers
Partway through the semester, it became apparent that we would not have our equipment in time to complete the practical portions of the class. When I spoke with my students about this and offered the possibility of training them on freediving skills, they were eager, so we started using our pool and teaching freediving skills. I have trained a lot of free divers over the years, but I loved watching my high schoolers take on these challenges and excel in something they didn’t even know they were getting into. By the end of the year, we had received all of our equipment. We had gotten ten of our students certified to conduct visual inspections on cylinders; we had completed academics on both SCUBA and Freediving and all the additional science standards. Still, we didn’t get to breathe underwater, which was a little heartbreaking.
Despite that, I loved hearing the impact the course had on my students, and I look forward to this school year starting. We are starting the school year with our equipment in place and have the logistics worked out this year. We plan on having our students actively diving as frequently as possible and working on actual science in the natural ocean with the ongoing kelp restoration project on the Oregon Coast. This year, my students will breathe underwater during their school day!
Owner, founder and lead of The Oregon Freediving Company, Dan Semrad II, has always had a passion for the water. With a deep respect for the ocean and an appreciation for every experience it provides, Dan loves sharing his experience and training divers to experience the wonder of our aquatic environments and the thrill of diving! Keep up with Dan via his Instagram or Facebook and the Oregon Freediving Company by checking out their website, Facebook, and Instagram