"I truly believe in the OSO mission and am grateful to have benefitted from the experience myself, as well as with my class!"
We’ve asked Katy Scowcroft, one of O’Neill Sea Odyssey’s teacher participants and alumna, to share her thoughts about her unique experience with the program as both a previous student and current educator. Here’s what she had to say…
During my first year teaching 5 years ago, my favorite phrase was “When I was in elementary school…” as I shared with my students my own memories growing up in Santa Cruz City Schools. I referred to my experience on the O’Neill Sea Odyssey even more that year, as my 4th grade class at Gault Elementary School eagerly anticipated their first time out in the ocean. I was honored and excited to return to the Sea Odyssey in April 2012 as an educator and past participant; to watch my students enjoy an experience that also meant so much to me.
Growing up in Santa Cruz, I’ve spent hundreds of summer and weekend days at the beach: splashing in the waves, digging giant holes in the sand, and enjoying time with family and friends in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. However, it wasn’t until 6th grade that I ever ventured past the white crashing crest and slimy seaweed scattered upon the shore. In 1996, during the O’Neill Sea Odyssey’s inaugural year, my class of DeLaveaga Dragons walked from school to the yacht harbor to experience an incredible ocean journey. Along with the majority of my classmates, this was my first time on a boat—the first time I’d ever been exposed to the wonders of the vast ocean. Throughout our morning on the Sea Odyssey, the Monterey Bay transformed into a tangible environment—we saw firsthand the ocean life we’d been studying for months, made concrete connections to the effects of pollution when we watched a plastic bag float past a family of sea otters rolling around in the kelp beds, and felt the power of the waves as we clung for dear life on the net in the middle of the catamaran.
I have carried the experiences, memories, and knowledge gained from the O’Neill Sea Odyssey with me for the last twenty-one years. What an impactful experience! I laugh when I recount how I feigned sea-sickness in order to munch on gingersnaps, and every time I’m on West Cliff, I recall what sea otters look like up close. The OSO’s message of ocean conservation has also remained at the forefront of my environmental consciousness. It is due to my experience on the Sea Odyssey that I make a conscious effort to help keep our Monterey Bay clean through small gestures such as picking up trash when I go to the beach, limiting the use of plastic bags, and recycling glass and plastics.
Mirroring our school demographics, 21 out of 24 of my first students were English Language Learners, and almost my entire class qualified for free and reduced lunch. None of my students had ever been on a boat, and while many lived in the Beach Flats neighborhood, the “beach” they referred to was usually the Boardwalk. This was the first time my students were able to see ocean life up close and personal, and just as it did for me, brought our classroom learning to life. The other 4th and 5th grade classes at our school experienced the OSO earlier in the school year; one incredible encounter was even captured in the Santa Cruz Sentinel as visiting whales breached 20 feet from the catamaran.
What a gift these trips are to children who have limited opportunities outside of school. The opportunity provided by the O’Neill Sea Odyssey is truly a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience that has a positive impact on every participant. I consider myself extra lucky to add to my memories on the OSO with my own class, watching my students howl with laughter and excitement as they bobbed above the waves, pointed out the sea lions, and waved at the tourists along the wharf. I even brought my own box of gingersnaps for old times’ sake (although it didn’t do much to help the poor kiddos “feeding the fish” off the back of the boat!) After switching grade levels from 4th grade to 2nd, I often think fondly of my first year teaching. Our incredible ocean adventure on the O’Neill Sea Odyssey stands out as one of my favorite memories and I am filled with gratitude to the donors and everyone in the organization who make it possible for students like mine (and myself!) to experience the full impact of our vast ocean.
What does the ocean mean to you?
To me, the ocean is it’s own world filled with deep unknowns and fascinating surprises. I have lived next to the ocean my entire life yet take it for granted. I know it is always there—I can hear the waves crashing from my studio apartment, hear the bark of sea lions at the wharf, and smell the salty air. I take solace in the tranquil views from West Cliff, and love to witness the power of the waves during an angry storm. I have swum in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Southern oceans and am awed by how different it is in each location. I am grateful to programs like OSO for promoting ocean conservation and stewardship, and educating students (such as myself) on the interesting marine biology that abounds in our own Monterey Bay.
Thank you, Katy, for sharing your experience and unique perspective. We are grateful for your support.