"The OSO lessons are both engaging and incredibly hands-on while also delivering a deep conservation message."
We've asked Sarah Langley, one of O'Neill Sea Odyssey's past instructors, to share her thoughts about her unique connection to, and teaching experience with, the OSO program. Here's what she had to say...
I started teaching for O’Neill Sea Odyssey after I returned home to Santa Cruz from the East Coast where I was working in environmental education. While in Florida and Maine, I developed a deep passion for the ocean and educating kids on how to protect it. I interned at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida where I was responsible for everything from cleaning huge saltwater tanks and feeding animals like alligators and loggerhead sea turtles to educating the public about their native Everglades wildlife. In Maine, I was a marine science instructor at Acadia Institute of Oceanography in Acadia National Park where I further developed my love for educating students about the ocean.
While living on the East Coast and building my passion for marine conservation education however, I came to the realization that Santa Cruz was one of the best places to educate kids about the ocean given Monterey Bay’s amazing biodiversity. This motivated me to return home to my family where I began volunteering at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center as a docent guide. Through the Center, I then connected with O’Neill Sea Odyssey and simultaneously became an instructor of kelp forest ecology and marine biology. During this time, I was living the best of both worlds - I learned all about Monterey Bay and its unique biodiversity through my training at the Seymour Center, while delivering this knowledge to the students that I taught at OSO. I loved being both a learner and a teacher and built such a huge foundation of love and respect for the Bay that will last forever.
My experience with O’Neill Sea Odyssey has influenced my career choices leading to where I am today. While working at OSO I learned two major things about myself – how much I love the ocean and my desire to educate as many kids as I can so they can both understand and respect it. These were the main reasons that I eventually decided to build a career in formal education where I became both a biology teacher and now, a science curriculum manager.
At O'Neill Sea Odyssey, and prior to my time there, my experiences mainly involved teaching smaller groups of students. Usually these students would travel from local schools or nearby organizations where the teacher or leader would organize a visit with a class or select group of kids. Although this was a perfect starting place to develop my passion for marine conservation education, I knew that I wanted to reach more students through formal education. That way I could more consistently and deliberately deliver the educational messages that I was so passionate about given that I would see a larger set of students every day for a longer period of time. I was also motivated by the opportunity of building lasting relationships with students that was available in formal education. It was because of these reasons that I earned my teaching credential and Master’s in education at UCSC shortly after my part-time work as an OSO instructor.
While teaching students aboard the Team O’Neill catamaran and seeing their reactions to all the cool hands-on experiences we provided, I was also inspired by OSO’s curriculum. The lessons are both engaging and incredibly hands-on while also delivering a deep conservation message. I felt it had a perfect balance of educating students to first understand our ocean, then provide a place where they could step back and better acknowledge the need to protect it after learning about human impact. Working at OSO motivated me to think about a future where I could possibly build and implement such a strong conservation-based curriculum within formal education. Now, as a science curriculum manager for Summit Public Schools, I often think of OSO’s curriculum as a model example for how schools can better instill conservation messages into the curriculum that teachers use.
From plastics to climate change, humans are responsible for a lot of the changes that we see happening on our planet. In order for people to truly understand our impact, they need to first understand and build respect for the natural world around them. A great way of doing that is by reaching kids while they’re young to help them develop an understanding of the local environment around them. This is why environmental education is so critically important, especially within the younger grades. After students have built a solid understanding of their surroundings, they can then better connect their actions with the larger world around them. And, hopefully, their feelings of appreciation and respect will lead to a desire to want to protect it for years to come.
What does the ocean mean to you?
When I think of the ocean, I think of where I grew up on Monterey Bay. So to me the ocean means love, home, and biodiversity.
Thank you, Sarah, for your commitment to helping others better understand the natural world around them. We're grateful for the time you invested with O'Neill Sea Odyssey and in our students.