What can you find in a one-by-one-foot patch of ground? An entire world of information. Just ask Kim Cornfield’s fourth graders. This tiny “quadrat” marked off with sections of PVC pipe, serves as a microcosm of the local environment throughout the year. It’s a great tool for teaching young people about the land, and can even propel students toward bigger things, like devising a campus cleanup initiative—or pursuing a career in the sciences.
Kim, who’s been teaching at the International School of Monterey for seven years, learned about quadrats at a free, week-long Teacher Professional Development Program offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s one in a range of programs the Aquarium created to serve teachers from the Monterey Bay region—and beyond. More than 140 instructors participate each year—almost 2,700 since the program’s inception.
For educators, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards can be invigorating and inspirational. It’s also a lot of hard work. Many teachers say the Aquarium has helped them re-engage and reconnect with students in ways they hadn’t imagined. They return to their classrooms with a new sense of energy and purpose.
Sometimes, a summer job is just a summer job. And sometimes, it changes your life. Monterey Bay Aquarium strives to have a life-changing impact on the young people who take part in our teen programs—part of our commitment to shape new generations of ocean conservation leaders. It’s the vision that drives creation of our new Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership, where we’ll be able to double the participation in these and other programs.
Even before the Center opens in 2019, we’re having this kind of impact on young women and men. And they are already making a difference in the world: as conservation leaders, educators and ocean advocates. Here are some of their stories.
Gaining skills for future success
Consider Roberto Flores. He was born and raised in Watsonville, in a neighborhood rife with gang violence.
“There were people killed on my street,” says Roberto, who’s now 25. In 2006, when he was a freshman in high school, he had the opportunity to become a Volunteer Guide at the Aquarium, helping guests get the most out of their visits and promoting an understanding of ocean conservation. From there, he became a Teen Conservation Leader, and a participant in Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats (WATCH), an Aquarium initiative with Pajaro Valley high schools.
As he moved from position to position, somehow, the Aquarium and its programs were always there, providing a much-needed lifeline—and offering a little bit of a tailwind to sustain the momentum he’d established by dint of his own drive and enthusiasm.
Society’s success in solving the environmental challenges of the 21st century will depend on our ability to give young people the knowledge, skills and motivation to create effective solutions for the future. At the core of this challenge is a critical need: solving a crisis in science and environmental education. At school, teachers struggle to meet the needs of students from diverse cultures, at a time when there’s a declining focus on science learning. At home, kids spend less time outdoors in nature, meaning fewer opportunities to connect with the wild world in ways that nurture a caring attitude toward the environment.
The Aquarium plays a powerful role in meeting the needs that schools can’t provide – and we’re working to have a larger, more sustained impact through science-based programs tailored to serve kids from preschool through high school, and their teachers. Here’s a deeper dive into some of the ways we’re making a difference, from staff educator Claudia Pineda Tibbs.
When you walk through the doors of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you can’t help but notice the smiles on the faces of students as they rush from one exhibit to the next. The sea spray isn’t the only thing in the air. As you navigate the galleries, you can feel the buzz of excitement as elementary school students squeal in delight after touching obscure invertebrates like the gumboot chiton.
Since 1984, the Aquarium has hosted more than 2.3 million schoolchildren – free of charge – through our School Field Trip Programs, and we’re committed to facilitating a range of learning experiences so students can discover the wonders of Monterey Bay as they make sense of their role in the natural world.