Fond du Lac students learn it's all about the diveThe water of Pike Lake, northwest of Duluth, was bone chilling last weekend. Snowflakes spun through the air, interspersed with freezing raindrops. The last thing on the minds of most people was a day at the beach.But for a group of Fond du Lac Ojibwe School students, that’s exactly what it was about.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The water of Pike Lake, northwest of Duluth, was bone chilling last weekend. Snowflakes spun through the air, interspersed with freezing raindrops. The last thing on the minds of most people was a day at the beach.
But for a group of Fond du Lac Ojibwe School students, that’s exactly what it was about.
The students spent parts of both Saturday and Sunday at the lake, completing the final open water dives necessary to qualify them for certification as open water scuba divers through the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI). The exercise was the culmination of nearly a year’s worth of online training and pool sessions as part of the school’s After School programming.
Coordinated through the efforts of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) consultant Julius Salinas, the process started with a Discover Scuba session by dive instructors Yan Saillard, owner of Innerspace Scuba in Duluth, and Rick Fry. Pool sessions for interested students began shortly thereafter and continued until almost the end of the school year. During that time the students also worked on completing the required online PADI scuba course.
“Studying for the PADI dive course wasn’t so hard but it did take time, and I’m glad I did it,” said student diver Jacob Ammesmaki.
Five of the original six students completed the online and pool portions of the requirements, with only the series of actual lake dives yet to go.
Salinas said the original intent was not to have the students doing the dives in mid-October, but the federal sequestration and subsequent budget cuts at the school caused unpreventable delays. The students and their instructors did their best to forge ahead nonetheless.
“The intimidation factor associated with this course was an obstacle that they all met and overcame,” said Salinas. “I think they developed a special degree of camaraderie by encouraging and helping each other through the study portion of the course. Pool sessions all went as well as it usually does when you put kids in a ‘hands on’ learning environment. Yan told me several times that these kids did better in the pool than many of his college-age students, saying, ‘They really seemed motivated to learn the techniques.’ That was great to hear.”
Predictably, last weekend was cold and damp, with Saturday’s air temperature registering at 41 degrees and dipping to 37 on Sunday. The weather was the last thing on the minds of the motivated students, however, and they spent 20 minutes diving 19 feet under water for each of the two mandatory dives on both days.
The student participants ranged in age from 11 to 18, including sixth-grader Justin Belanger, seventh-graders Jacob Ammesmaki and James Friedman and 12th-grader Cody Bauer.
“I was kinda scared about all the new equipment we needed to wear [wet suit, gloves, hood, boots] to dive in the lake, but it was fine once we got in the water and I didn’t even think about it,” said Friedman.
And they did it — to a man. Bauer earned his certification as an open-water scuba diver, and the other three earned their certification as junior open-water scuba divers.
A fifth who was absent last weekend will have the opportunity to be certified at a later date.
Salinas, of Esko, has more than a vested interest in the success of his students. He worked for 20 years with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system up until 2010, most recently as an aviation instructor at Lake Superior College. Following early retirement, he started substitute teaching at the Ojibwe School and most recently became the school’s STEM coordinator.
A diver himself, he went through the certification process seven years ago at the age of 53, along with his son, who was then 10. Now, both he and his son serve as volunteer divers at the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth.
Salinas said his greatest reward has been watching students thrive and succeed at whatever they do.
“Seeing these guys complete their scuba training is really the high point in my 35 years of teaching,” reflected Salinas. “I have no doubt that this is one experience they will remember for their entire lives. I do feel like a proud papa!”
Salinas added that the excitement, adventure and feelings of achievement that seem to radiate from the students are contagious.
“I just think of all the wonderful experiences they have waiting for them because they challenged themselves, overcame their fears and apprehension and learned to work as a team in becoming certified scuba divers,” he said. “I know that their lives will be richer, more satisfying and productive because of this accomplishment.”
Following the weekend’s dives, Bauer said he’d like to use his new skills to possibly become an underwater welder or a rescue diver.
“If my family goes back to Jamaica someday I could scuba dive out there,” added Belanger, sensing the possibilities as well. “The water is warmer so you don’t need to wear a wet suit!”
Salinas said his next goal is to get Bauer involved as a volunteer diver at the Great Lakes Aquarium.
“When this happens I’ll probably burst with pride and satisfaction,” he said. “It’s a great way to instill a sense of community service. You can imagine what the young kids will think when they go for a visit to the aquarium — and see Cody as one of the divers!”
John Lundy of Forum News Service contributed to this story.