Environmentally inclined students win award for volunteering.

Wyatt Olivarez wants to swim with the sharks someday.

The 18-year-old Polytech High School graduate said he'll avoid the more aggressive sharks, like Great Whites, but swimming with the aquatic predators is a longtime dream.

“It just seems so cool to do,” he said.

He isn’t alone. While none of his classmates want to swim with sharks, they have their own environmental goals. And their ambitions have been noticed. Olivarez was part of a group of Polytech students in the environmental program who received DNREC’s Outstanding Volunteer Youth Group of the Year.

The students were recognized by Gov. Jack Markell and DNREC at the Delaware State Fair July 28.

Their teacher, Susan Wujtewicz, had them volunteering at the Aquatic Research Education Center in Smyrna. They spent their time mentoring fourth and fifth graders on a wide range of environmental topics, such as the importance of marine life to marshes, wetlands and other fragile ecosystems.

Wujtewicz said the students spent an estimated 120 hours volunteering at the center. Gary Kreamer, education administrator of the center, nominated the students.

“[The Center] appreciates the knowledge and professionalism that my students display when they are talking to the public,” Wujtewicz said. “It’s not like they have to be supervised or have their hands held because the students go there with a good basic background of the information being taught.”

The students said they were glad to pass on their knowledge to the younger scholars.

Maria Medina has been volunteering there for three years. She said it gives younger students an advantage over their peers.

“There’s a large variety of students that come out to ARC and a lot of them don’t get this kind of outdoor experience and they don’t get taught in schools,” she said. “It only occurred to me that was an issue when I started working with these children, because there were certain things they didn’t know – like what a dragonfly looks like.”

Teammate Olivarez enjoys molding young minds.

When he was younger a marine biologist used to visit his church and talk about humpback whales, seals and sting rays. The stories sparked his curiosity and he's been interested in marine life ever since. His long term goals range from being an environmental scientist to a marine botanist.

While volunteering at the center he taught students about the different parts of a fish. Teaching was a thrill, he said and watching the look on students’ faces when they were learning was half the fun.

“Some kids are really into it,” he said. “They have the fire in them to learn more.”