The special education school I worked at in the L.A. area was eye-opening for all involved on a daily basis. That was certainly true when the teacher I worked under and I took our “large” class of 12 boys to the beach and to the mountains on separate field trips.
None of them had ever been to either despite living no more than 40 minutes or less from these destinations. The thrill on their faces brought tears to my eyes, and their normally aggressive demeanor chilled substantially. Nature is an amazing teacher, counselor and inspiration — I’ve seen it so many times with my own eyes.
Coast Unified School District has a unique set of outdoor experiences for our children grades 4-8, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Physical Education teacher Toby Cinque and Santa Lucia Middle School principal Kyle Martin recently to hear about their latest outdoor adventure to the Channel Islands.
“You know, here we live right at the ocean, but how many of our kids know anything about it, or water safety, or engage with it at all?” Cinque said. “Some of their parents aren’t comfortable with it or haven’t much interest, so the kids aren’t encouraged in that way.
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“I’ve been a dive master for about 25 years; Kyle is a longtime surfer; our science teacher, Danielle Narzisi, is also into water sports; and we just kind of started talking about this fact. Obviously, it is our passion, but we wondered how we could share that and use it as a tool to teach our kids”
Well, a couple of weeks ago, those thoughts coagulated into an awesome outing for 38 seventh-graders.
Cinque explains: “We were able to cover Danielle’s science curriculum of Environmental Education and Life Sciences, as well as Language Arts and even art! It started by taking them to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium in March. I pointed out a lot of animals they’d be likely to see on our trip. They then drew a chosen creature, researched it and put it all together in a laminated ‘guide book’ to take along. I tell you, it was so fun to see how excited they were when they actually saw something in their guide! One kid was even teaching the captain of the ship a thing or two from his new knowledge base!”
Cinque has taken more than 50 voyages with Truth Aquatics, a world-class dive outfit out of Santa Barbara. They have three well-equipped boats and highly trained crew that sail through the northern Channel Islands.
On this outing, our kids explored the waters around Santa Cruz Island.
Cinque, Martin and Narzisi went with the students along with Marine Biologist Carolyn Skinder, from the Monterrey Bay Sanctuary Council, two Coast Union grads, Mason Smith and Jackson Willhite, who are both certified Life Guards, and one of Cinque’s diving friends. Lots of eyes were on this group of students!
A little seasickness gave way to excitement when they got to the island and were able to break into one of three activities: kayaking, snorkeling (yes, they all got wetsuits and gear) or the touch tank on board the ship that Cinque and his pal put together that day.
That day, by the way, started by boarding the school bus at 4 a.m. in Cambria, getting to Santa Barbara by 7:15, boarding the boat by 8, getting to the island by 10 and heading back to shore by 2. Obviously, having at least an overnight would have allowed for many more teaching opportunities and not been quite so exhausting. But as one might expect, that has a price tag attached.
Added Martin: “If we could find funding to make this island trip a regular part of our curriculum like our other outings, I know we can continue to fire up our kids about learning. Who knows what course their paths will take from here out. We just need a way to finance it. We know budgets are always a prickly subject but, it is just so important."
I was told that some kids found the experience of being in the water “soothing” and “I’m never ever going to forget this!” One young lady, probably the most tentative of the group to start, asked if she could jump off the boat into the cove they’d been exploring by the end of the activities! Before they knew it (with permission from the captain, of course), almost all the kids were just in the drink!
As Cinque and Martin both said, school provides the basic skills for life, but experiences like this make it come alive, teach interpersonal skills, critical-thinking skills and just simply opens students’ eyes to the world around them. I am only sorry my sons didn’t have this opportunity when they were in school here!
I hope someone out there reading this says, “Hey, I’d like to set up an endowment to make this happen every year — and make it an overnighter even!”
If you’d like to know more, contact Santa Lucia Middle School at 805-927-3693.