stars challenge 1SANDY HOOK – MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, is once again hosting a Stars Challenge weeklong summer camp in marine science for middle school students. Deadline for applications is June 16, and applications can be found on line at

The program is a hands-on course with both lab and field work that explores the marine life and habitats of Sandy Hook’s beaches and estuaries. The one-week camp runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and is open to students who have completed 6th, 7th or 8th grade classes and earned a “B” or higher in their current year’s science course. Four identical sessions, tentatively scheduled for June 24-28, July 8 -12, July 15-19 and July 22-July 26, are planned.

During the weeklong program, students will explore marine life by collecting, identifying and dissecting marine plants and animals, as well as learning to identify the unique characteristics of the various marine habitats on Sandy Hook including beaches, salt marshes, estuaries, bay and ocean.  Students will be taught to understand physical impacts of the waves, tides and currents on the beach. Chemistry courses will also be offered, giving students the opportunity to experiment with techniques to analyze water temperature, dissolved oxygen content, and other chemicals in the water.

stars challenge 3The summer program is hosted by MAST and administered by The Stars Challenge, a science enrichment program with a goal towards encouraging more students to become innovators involved in science and technology, preparing them to take the lead in future technology. Focus is on students working in small groups to create innovative solutions. Founded by Dr. Steve Chappell and Margaret Ann Chappell, the Challenge offers fall and winter courses as well as summer programs in other schools in addition to the MAST program.

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John Valente, MAST physics instructor, continues to be the lead teacher for this summer program, a position he has held for the past eight years.  He will be joined by three other MAST instructors, each teaching one of the weeks of the summer program. This year’s program faculty includes chemistry instructor Jessica Godkin, biology instructor Clare Ng, and oceanography instructor Lisa Baskin.

Valente said in past years students have always been eager to do both the lab and field work in the program, especially “the dissections of the major animal groups that are studied. They like that the program is a serious investigation of the marine environment since the course emphases the reasons why specific field investigations or dissections are conducted.”  Another unique area of study is the Holly Forest located on Sandy Hook. Marine holly forests are rare along the eastern seaboard,  “having one right in our own backyard! is very special” Valente said.

MAST began the program 20 years ago, then, approximately eight years ago, started hosting it when the Stars Challenge took over administering the program by adding it to their many science enrichment offerings.  Valente was instrumental in developing the program from its onset, along with two other MAST instructors, Barbara Boyd, now a retired MAST oceanography instructor and Cheryl McDonald, currently still part of the MAST faculty as biology instructor.

Acceptance into the program is limited to 18 students per class, with two classes offered each of the four weeks.  Students bring their own lunches. Cost for the programs is $300. The on-line application, along with more information, can be found at 

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Muriel J Smith

Muriel J Smith an award-winning journalist, former newspaper editor, book author and historian, Her newest venture is her blog, in...