BIDDEFORD – Eighteen high school students descended on the shoreline at Biddeford Pool this week, filling the air with shrieks and gobs of flying mud. Rubber waders couldn’t protect them from the muck, and several fell face-first into the marsh.

But no one seemed to mind.

“Today has been really fun and hands-on,” said one of the students, Katie Cavanaugh, 16, of Cape Elizabeth. “It’s good to get this experience in the field.”

Behind the fun was an educational goal: The students, participating in the University of New England’s Coastal Marine Ecology Summer Program, are studying core samples from the mud to find the types and numbers of creatures in various tidal zones. The students will receive three college credits from UNE when they complete the two-week course.

“This program gives high school students a college experience and exposes them to a college-level marine biology course,” said Leah Bymers, 30, of Portland. She is the instructor of the summer class, and during the school year is an assistant lecturer in UNE’s Marine Science Department.

Bymers said she enjoys working with high school students because they are eager to learn a subject for which she has a passion. “They have good attitudes and get really excited about the same things as I do.”

Students divide their time among classroom lectures, lab work and field trips. At night, they stay in one of the university’s dorms.

“They are getting an experience I never got until I was in college,” said Kate Divito, 21, of Beacon Falls, Conn., a marine biology major at UNE and one of two assistant instructors for the program. “I wish I could have done this when I was in high school.”

Cavanaugh, the Cape Elizabeth student, is thinking about studying marine biology when she goes to college. The summer program is giving her a preview of what to expect.

“The only way I can know if I like the school and their marine biology program is by visiting it like I am here at UNE,” she said.

The other 17 students have similar aspirations to study marine life.

Ally Barry, 17, of Cheshire, Conn., is interested in marine mammal rehabilitation.

“I always wanted to be a marine biologist, and UNE has a rehabilitation center, so this program is great for me,” Barry said.

On previous field trips, the students visited the Saco River and a rocky intertidal zone on the ocean.

Mary Kaufman, 16, of Southbury, Conn., said she especially enjoyed the intertidal zone because the students found several interesting specimens.

“We found a really cool brittle star (a type of starfish),” Kaufman said. “We can bring these creatures back to the classroom because we have a wet lab.”

A wet lab re-creates a marine organism’s natural habitat, allowing students to study various forms of marine life in the classroom.

After collecting small mollusks and sea worms out of the mud samples, students walked to the beach and tried to scrub off the drying mud. The mess didn’t phase Aliya Holland, 14, of Old Lyme, Conn.

“I know I want to be a marine biologist,” she said, with mud streaked across her smiling face.

Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

[email protected]