Burke and Wando High Schools Visit Bulls Island for “Over the Horizon” Field Study on Diversity

A Diversity Trip to Over The Horizon

Students who had met only hours ago at Chick-fil-A for breakfast huddled together with their new friends for warmth, on a windy ferry ride to Bull’s Island. The students from Burke High School and Wando High School were on their way to the island for the Over the Horizon field study. Wando&BurkePhotoOp -KatieRittenhouse

Over the Horizon is a project that teaches students the importance of cultural and biological diversity. The project, now in its third year, unites students from different races, cultural backgrounds, and economic levels. The project includes a day spent exploring and learning on Bull’s Island, a barrier island in Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge that is known for its ecological resourcesOlivia, CoastalExpeditionsNaturalist-KatieRittenhouse.

Bull’s Island is an ideal location for a diversity lesson with its variety of habitats: maritime forests, sandy beach, brackish impoundments and salt marsh. Within the diverse ecosystems of Bull’s Island are an abundance of wildlife and plants which co-exist and depend on each other for survival. Gates Roll, a naturalist for Coastal Expeditions, led the students through the different ecosystems, sharing with them the abundant natural and cultural history of the island.

The first stop was at a barely visible foundation of the Martello Tower, where Gates told students about the Sewee Indians who first inhabited the area, the English Settlers who landed and later claimed the island and, that the tower was used as a lookout for pirates and also served during the revolutionary and civil wars.

Next was a visit to Boneyard Beach, where they posed for a group photo with their new friends on a fallen sun-bleached tree. Students passed from the beach, through the maritime forest, to the marsh in mere minutes and learned that the diversity of the ecosystems is what creates a healthy natural community. In addition, they learned that, similarly, in a society where two or more different types of cultures come together, there you will also find a stronger, healthier community.

Back on the trailers, students discussed hobbies, jobs, and which colleges they were going to attend, realizing that despite any differences, there were many more similarities. At the Dominick House, conversation flowed effortlessly as they shared food from their lunches, played ball, braided each other’s hair and did yoga.

The final program of the day was a presentation by Vera Manigault, sweetgrass basketry artisan and Gullah Geechee historian. Students learned the history of sweetgrass basket sewing and its significance to the Gullah Geechee culture. They were even treated to a conversation in Gullah between Vera and Burke student, Aisha.

On the ferry ride back, new friends took photos and exchanged contact information. The students gave an enthusiastic “Oh Yea!” when asked if they had had an enjoyable Over the Horizon experience.

Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Coastal Expeditions and the Charleston County School District are pleased to announce the expansion of Over the Horizon this year to Lincoln Middle-High School and Academic Magnet High School.

Story by Katie Rittenhouse, Student Conservation Association Intern.


Burke & Wando Students Visit Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

A Trip Over the Horizon

By: M. Eliese Ronke, MS

October 22, 2014 – How do you get teenagers from two different sides of the economic spectrum to spend a whole day together chatting about everything from the flight patterns of wood storks to the technology of rice plantations?

Take them on a trip Over the Horizon.  A program hosted by Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Over the Horizon brings together students from the Charleston area for a day of diversity— both biological and cultural.  The rich natural and cultural histories of the Lowcountry connect students to their past, present, and future.


For the third year in a row 15 students from Burke High School in Downtown Charleston and 15 students from Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant shared the experience.  Most students had never been to Cape Romain, never seeing up close the unique habitat right in their backyard.  Over the Horizon provided students not only a new experience but a new perspective on the public lands which they will soon be entrusted to help protect.  Students learned the importance of the surrounding area and the importance of taking ownership of the land and history.

Over the Horizon - Burke and Wando 1

The day began with a boat ride from Garris Landing to Bulls Island.  Guided through the intercoastal waterway by Chris Crolley and Gates Roll of Coastal Expeditions, students, teachers, and volunteers viewed the vast chordgrass salt marshes and abundant bird life, and discussed the importance of biodiversity in maintaining healthy ecosystems.  Upon landing on Bulls Island, students spent the morning touring the maritime forest, freshwater marshes, and pristine beaches, spotting egrets, fox squirrels, and— of course— alligators along the way.

Students lunched in the shade of live oaks draped with resurrection ferns and Spanish moss.  After a bit of tree climbing and a spontaneous dance circle, the afternoon was spent in the historic Dominick House.

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Sweetgrass basket artisan Vera Manigault guided students through the history of sweetgrass basketry and the modern Gullah Geechee culture.  Michael Allen, a Community Outreach Specialist for the National Parks Service, then discussed the history and significance of the Gullah Geechee corridor.  He spoke to the importance of the Lowcountry in helping to build South Carolina as a vital part of the United States both yesterday and today.

Mr. Allen summarized the day best; “We live in a special, unique, sacred place.”  We have a duty to protect the diversity of life— plant, animal, and human alike— which makes the Lowcountry so special.

And the students of Over the Horizon have already taken the first steps in accepting that mantle.

Special thanks to all the educators and volunteers that made this amazing experience possible again this fall for students from Wando and Burke High Schools.


Over the Horizon Oct 2014 Happy

Pictures by Alisha Marshall & Eliese Ronke