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From Student to Environmental Educator in the Classroom

By Christina Benson, 5th Grade Teacher at Central School

As a student in National City in the early 90’s, I can remember my 4th grade year at Kimball School being one of environmental learning and activism. I had the most amazing teacher who taught me the importance of recycling and taking care of the environment. Mrs. Godshalk started the first recycling program at our school and sparked me to become conscientious of the world outside of National City. She continues to be a strong advocate for our community today.

I remember walking by an aluminum can on the floor and recycling it. I’d see litter on the ground, and I’d pick it up and throw it away. I’d see the faucet running too long, so I’d turn it off. And most importantly, now as a classroom teacher I work to inspire the next generation of environmental activists. But it can be difficult to focus on activism when you’re trying to balance Math, Reading, Writing, Science, Social Studies, P.E., and Art. But lucky for us, we have Ocean Connectors!

A local non-profit program, Ocean Connectors, brings marine education into the classroom. The subjects they cover include wetlands, sea turtles, whales, birds, and sharks. The fifth grade lessons include learning about the different species of whales, the dangers whales face from humans, and ways students can help. After a classroom presentation by an Ocean Connectors instructor, students get to connect the ocean issues with students internationally through a “knowledge exchange”. National City students write letters in Spanish to students in Mexico about themselves, what they have learned, and how they can help whales. They become pen-pals with the students in Mexico and receive a personalized reply towards the end of the school year.

Ocean Connectors has done something that all education should do for students. Give access and opportunity. National City students get to experience marine life as kids, where otherwise they’d have to wait until they were adults. Many of our students have never been on a boat, or even to the beach! The excitement in our students’ eyes when they go whale watching for the first time is the best part of this program.


I am very proud to say that when I look into my classroom year after year during an Ocean Connectors lesson, I can see the fourth grader in me getting inspired to help the environment and save the planet. We need more programs like Ocean Connectors in our District, and throughout the country!

I thank Ocean Connectors’, founder Frances Lang, and all the hardworking employees for their efforts to educate our kids. They are fierce advocates in the National City community for marine animals and environmental justice. Myself and other teachers are grateful that they are able to bring real-life ocean experiences to our local students. And we hope that their programs can continue for years to come.

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