By Amy Knight, Scripps Graduate Student and Ocean Connectors Volunteer
I have always believed that a connection to the environment is essential to personal wellbeing. However it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized the equal value and immense satisfaction in making a lifelong connection with a student. Those two realizations, shaped by my personal values of social justice and conservation, drew me to the realm of environmental education, and to the mission of Ocean Connectors.
Ocean Connectors provides environmental education programs in San Diego County, specifically in areas where access to safe outdoor recreation and to the coast in general is few and far between. This lack of access can lead to disconnectedness between students and the natural beauty and importance of the ocean. I saw this play out as a high school teacher in the urban hub of Miami. When students lack both the opportunity and ability to engage in outdoor areas safely and productively, a general apathy about the environment emerges. Littering becomes widespread, recycling is virtually nonexistent, and knowledge about potential environmental crises is limited to daily weather reports.
Ocean Connectors enlisted my help with their sixth grade habitat restoration field trips, where I help students identify birds at the wetland habitat around Otay River. The variations in bird color, shape, and size amazes the students, but what I notice most is what Rachel Carson referred to as their “the sense of wonder”. Seeing a video of birds is nothing like watching hundreds of birds fly in formation above you.
I am also helping out with the Ocean Connectors fifth grade whale watching field trips, where the students are vigilant in scanning the horizon for gray whales, looking for that telltale blow. They can barely contain their excitement when countless dolphins swim directly towards them, leaping through the waves. This emotion helps builds upon the knowledge they are gaining.
The connections I witness the students making helps to inform my own understanding of environmental education. As a graduate student in Climate Science and Policy at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, I bring these memorable experiences to the study of climate change and the role of policy. I see that these invaluable educational opportunities occur only as a result of the tireless commitment of organizations like Ocean Connectors, along with the generous contributions of their donors and partners. Undoubtedly, a cooperative effort is needed to integrate environmental education and climate science into education policy.
I applaud Ocean Connectors’ measurable success in providing meaningful environmental education programs, which have the potential to powerfully shape a child’s personal fulfillment, strength, and academic achievement, while benefiting the local environment and the communities that depend on it.