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  • Writer's pictureChad Oliver

Students “Dive In” during steam expo

Naples resident and Emmy® Award-winning cinematographer Andy Casagrande goes underwater around the world to educate about and elevate an often misunderstood part of our oceans and pop culture: sharks. On a Saturday in late January, Casagrande dazzled an audience of more than 1,800 people — students, parents, and school and district staff — gathered at the new Aubrey Rogers High School in North Naples for the 2024 Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) STEAM Expo. “Andy could live anywhere. He chose to come here. To live here. To send his kids to school [in CCPS],” remarked Superintendent Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli following the keynote presentation where Casagrande took students on a virtual video expedition face-to-face with various shark species. He’s best known for his work in capturing stunning footage of sharks and other marine creatures, often involving close-up encounters, which provide intricate details into shark behavior patterns, personalities, and idiosyncrasies. His work has been featured on National Geographic and during Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.”

“I thought it was great energy, and the kids were excited,” Casagrande said. “For me, it’s an authentic experience. I want to share everything I know about sharks.” That authenticity was especially evident when he showed a shark swallowing and then sending a $5,000 camera to the bottom of an ocean. Lesson to be learned: use a tether the next time!  He explained the resilient nature and brilliant minds of sharks to outlive dinosaurs. Casagrande even brought his elementary-age son up to the stage to help him stretch a tape measure showing the incredible lengths sharks can grow. You should have seen the wide eyes of students when they demonstrated whale sharks can grow up to 60 feet long!

After the expedition in the school’s splashy new auditorium — more aptly described as a performing arts hall — students spilled into the Aubrey Rogers High main concourse and gymnasium to experience hands-on learning activities within “STEAM Village.” “We’re using coding to build a big water aquarium and put fish inside it,” explained Oakridge Middle School student Kush Munim while at a computer using the game-based platform Minecraft Education. He talked back and forth with a friend, working simultaneously next to him on a different laptop, to create an underwater ecosystem.

A few feet away, elementary children used art supplies to create pieces of coral and place them within a colorful, student-created coral reef. Everywhere you walked or looked, students explored different aspects and potential career paths in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. “My hope today is that they take away the importance of our oceans,” said Dr. Ricciardelli. “We need those sharks to keep our oceans healthy.” Most student attendees were elementary and middle school students.  High school students worked exhibits within STEAM Village, earned volunteer hours, and mentored younger students. The morning also provided exposure to local opportunities, like The Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University. One objective of this community engagement event is to spark ideas of how students might continue learning about sharks and marine conservation. “This is our backyard. This is our life. Go over to Rookery Bay,” Dr. Ricciardelli added. “There is research being done every day.”   

Casagrande’s eyes focus on the attention to detail needed to attach a camera to the fin of great hammerheads to learn why and how long they swim sideways. He works in and out of underwater cages with cameras that capture 1,000 frames per second showing the ravenous feeding pattern of the great white shark. It’s wild work.  It’s important work. He’s cognizant he won’t be doing it forever. “For those kids here watching today, when we’re long gone, they’ll be conducting the groundbreaking discoveries of the future.”


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