The term “pen-pal” originated back in the 1930’s, and it has been a popular form of communication ever since, even in today’s digital age. The excitement of communicating over long distance is especially memorable during our childhood, when we are highly influenced by the opinions of our peers. Ocean Connectors “pen-pals” exchange sea turtle artwork in fourth grade, whale letters in fifth grade, and bird conservation videos in sixth grade. They use English and Spanish to express their ideas about protecting the marine life that migrates between California and Mexico. This binational dialogue leaves a lasting impression and allows kids to visualize the vast journeys of migratory animals while connecting with their peers over the border to encourage stewardship.
During October 2016 the Ocean Connectors Director traveled to San Francisco (San Pancho for short), a small town on the Pacific coast of mainland Mexico, for the fourth year in a row. She delivered hundreds of pages of art, letters, and videos made by schoolchildren in National City, California to students at public elementary schools throughout the state of Nayarit. She also provided presentations in Spanish about marine life, and gave out reusable water bottles in every class. Lodging for the Director was generously provided by A Sure Sale with Team Adams.
This year Ocean Connectors partnered with the San Pancho Bird Observatory (SPBO) to work with a biology student from the University of Guadalajara, Omar Krishna, who attended nearly all of the classroom visits and provided several of the presentations as part of his internship with SPBO. Ocean Connectors Advisory Board member Zach Birmingham also assisted with the presentations in the town of Sayulita. In total the team visited 11 schools in southern Nayarit, and provided class presentations and knowledge exchanges to 907 students!
Ocean Connectors programs engage students at a critical time in their lives; in Mexico only about 62% of children reach secondary school, at which point about half drop out (Mexicanos Primeros 2009). Ocean Connectors is designed to enrich the public school system, keeping students engaged, stimulated, and inspired by the learning process. The Mexican students are delighted by the Ocean Connectors speakers, the knowledge exchange with their “pen-pal” in the U.S., and the conservation supplies, which over the years have included reusable water bottles, reusable shopping bags, t-shirts made of recycled fabric, sea turtle books, and sea turtle toys made of recycled materials from EntreAmigos. We also give out basic classroom supplies such as white board pens, crayons, and activity books, which are lacking in many of the local schools.
In the upcoming months Ocean Connectors will continue the knowledge exchange program in the schools of Nayarit by mailing additional materials and working closely with our partners in the area. We will also be seeking college student interns both in San Diego and Nayarit to work with Ocean Connectors to expand our binational programs (contact firstname.lastname@example.org if interested). A special thanks to The Volgenau Foundation for supporting Ocean Connectors and providing funding for the knowledge exchange program, which allows us to spread conservation across borders.