Alternative Perspective by Josh Bowman

Photo courtesy of Jasper Lyons

Photo courtesy of Jasper Lyons

The Best Method To Educate Youth

The O'Neill Sea Odyssey program redefines education by providing kids with an opportunity to see marine life up close and in person. In the education system today, it is easy to get stuck between the margins and standards, completely missing out on why the material in the classroom is important. As an environmental studies student at CSUMB, I have seen people at every stage in the education system who don’t take the subjects they are studying seriously. The answer is because most of them haven’t had the chance to experience what they are studying.

Instead of following along in the pages of a book, the kids who participate in the Sea Odyssey program are taught valuable lessons about the marine ecosystem.  On their journey aboard the sixty-five-foot Team O’Neill catamaran, the kids collect their own water samples, take their own navigation coordinates, and observe a plethora of marine life. From jellyfish to seabirds and all the mammals in between, the complex inter-working’s of the marine ecosystem are shown down to the microscopic level. A fun filled adventure for anyone, the Sea Odyssey experience opens many doorways for the youth by bringing their education to life.

This is a crucial aspect of education that gets overlooked by the education system most people go through. Very few people can get out and get a hands-on perspective at any point in their educational career. They are instead left with a lot of information passed on to them from someone else. Without their own experiences they cannot apply that information in a practical way that properly addresses a problem.

For the first hour and a half of the Sea Odyssey program, the kids get a chance to gain that experience. They cruise around on the waters in the Monterey Bay and see for the first time, animals they previously had known exclusively by pictures. As I watched them, I could tell that this experience would leave a lifelong impression. They were an eager bunch and all smiles, leaning up on the safety rail as close as their orange life jackets would allow. When you are there, you can feel the change happen. It’s as if a switch is being flipped and now their curiosity has been triggered. Endless questions stream in, they want to know more about this amazing new place. They reminded me of my younger self, and how I felt when I first tasted the salt air and saw all the incredible marine creatures.

I grew up as a free diver and went through all my stages of life with frequent trips beneath the waves. Nothing I came across in a classroom inspired me as much as actually being in the ocean. The inspiration that was ignited by ocean’s magic burned into a passion. And that is the key to engaging someone with their learning. We can’t force people to care, they must decide that for themselves. Once engaged, the classroom becomes a place where further learning can take place. It’s like experience is the foundation for the class setting. I saw how that relationship worked during the Sea Odyssey program. After their tour on the boat the kids were taken back for the second half of the program. In the shore-side classroom, they were taught in more depth what they had just gone out and seen.

One of the classroom stations had a model demonstration on how pollutants end up in the marine ecosystem. This visual demonstration, where a spray bottle was used to simulate rainfall, provided a broad perspective of how precipitation collects the various pollutants on the land and carries them into the marine habitat. Then it was explained to the kids, how the pollutants negatively impact the wildlife they saw earlier that day. The look on their faces, when they learned how oil and trash can kill birds and otters, showed their concern. Many of them started to offer their ideas on how to reduce the amount of pollution entering the environment. Combining a classroom activity that was based on an outside of the classroom experience really defined the purpose of the lesson.

Observing this education model, the impact translates well in other learning aspects of society. The most effective policy for conservation comes from the people who have had actual experience in that environment. Earlier this year, I participated in a public forum where California State marine resource management was discussed between government spokespeople and the local communities. During the meeting, it was clear that the policymakers didn’t really understand the environment the way the divers did. The divers, who spent years of their life interacting with the marine environment, had brilliant ideas on how to protect marine resources. They had an insight and perspective that was only attainable because of their experience in the water. Which circles back to the main point here, that providing life experience to our youth is the best way to prepare them for the roles that, one day, they will address in society. Perhaps some of these students will become policymakers themselves, hold offices of power, and be able to make a positive difference in the world. Thanks to O'Neill Sea Odyssey, their perspective will be a little more whole.

During their navigation station, each student had a photo taken of them standing at the control platform of the catamaran. In that moment they were the captains, stewards, and sentinels with time on their side. Maybe one of them will become the next innovator like Jack O’Neill.

With the Sea Odyssey program soon to reach their one hundred thousandth student, the echo of that message is becoming a boom. Once served, a lesson will last a lifetime. O’Neil Sea Odyssey is a fitting example of exactly what one lifetime can amount to. After all, it was started by innovator, Jack O’Neill, who had the vision that experience and learning should be for everyone. The Sea Odyssey program has become a proven example of successfully facilitating connections between youth and the environment. And with those connections, a better understanding that the life they now understand more intimately, is worth protecting.

Josh Bowman

Josh Bowman

Adam Steckley