AES buses bring kids, teachers to Sea lab facility

by George Wiley

Between now and the end of the school year, close to 1,500 Redondo Beach students and their overjoyed teachers will tour the AES power plant in King Harbor and the nearby S.E.A. marine science laboratory under a special three-month trial busing effort.

AES is footing the bill for the buses, which were booked solid within a week of the program's announcement. The cost of busing, about $240 per trip, is so high that most schools allow teachers only one field trip a year. With AES picking up the bus tab, elementary, middle school and even the occasional high school class can now send students on a visit to the power plant and the adjacent sea lab.

In the sea lab, students get hands-on lessons about local sea creatures and the plants that nourish them.

"I love it," said the sea lab's education coordinator Giancarlo Cetrulo last week, as the first busload of students arrived from Riviera Elementary School in south Torrance. "This is great," Cetrulo added, "every group that comes in here is a new experience. The kids usually have insights that I never even thought of."

Cetrulo, along with six interns employed by the lab, guide groups of about 60 students at a time through the S.E.A. (Science, Education, Adventure) lab. The students look at fish and other creatures in tanks. Many of these animals are rescued from the screens that keep them from being sucked into the power plant's cooling system, which uses ocean water. The sea life includes lobsters, octopuses and sharks.

The students also study plankton under microscopes and walk to the nearby beach to observe that habitat. Cell biology, evolution the structure of sea creatures and the chemistry of seawater are also areas of study.

The lab, which is across Harbor Drive from the power plant, is actually owned and operated by Southern California Edison, the precursor of AES. AES bought out SCE, but the two companies are still negotiating the finishing touches on who owns what, and one properties still under the microscope is the sea lab.

The field trip last week appeared to delight the elementary students who eagerly dunked arms into tanks to touch sea life. The trip certainly delighted the teachers.

"It's been absolutely fantastic," said Riviera second grade teacher Kathi Matsubara. "It's very personal and private. The staff is very educated about what they're teaching."

"It's definitely something I want to bring my kids back to next year," added fifth grade Riviera teacher Millie Suzuki, whose students were making the field trip at the same time. "The busing is what makes this so expensive. Without having to pay for busing we were able to add this as an extra field trip."

Cetrulo said AES had committed to 25 bus trips for this year, at a cost of about $6,000. If the trial program is successful, AES may commit to a yearlong busing effort next year at a cost of about $40,000, Cetrulo added.ER