Aquarium Celebrates Hosting 2 Million Students for Free Education Visits
Programs dating to grand opening help create ocean advocates
On January 24 the Monterey Bay Aquarium marks a notable milestone when it celebrates hosting 2 million students to take part in free education programs at the world-acclaimed aquarium. Every year since it opened its doors in 1984, the aquarium has hosted 80,000 schoolchildren free of charge – a program that sets the Monterey Bay Aquarium apart from all others nationally.
At a time when school budgets are being slashed and science programs are in decline, free-to-learn education programs, field trips and hands-on science labs have never been more critical. According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment, California fourth graders performed at the lowest level nationally. That is why every day, aquarium instructors work tirelessly to connect students and teachers with the marine world.
“This important work, not always visible, is central to all we do to assure a future with healthy oceans,” said Julie Packard, the aquarium’s executive director. “Through our education programs, we’re having a lasting impact on the lives of young people.”
The nonprofit aquarium receives no government financial support for its education initiatives. The programs are supported by aquarium donors and members through its Children’s Education Fund. The 80,000 school children and teachers who visit the aquarium each year come from preschool through high school and from all parts of California. They explore the award-winning exhibits and learn about ocean conservation. Whether it’s singing marine-focused songs with preschoolers who’ve never before seen the ocean or exploring biodiversity with high school students in classrooms with seawater and living ocean animals, the goal is to inspire the next generation of ocean stewards.
The hands-on approach creates an emotional connection that encourages learning and caring, and gives children the confidence that they can make a difference for the oceans, according to Cynthia Vernon, vice president for education programs at the aquarium.
Many students take part in staff-led Discovery Lab and Ocean Explorer programs in classrooms and the aquarium auditorium, while others take part in self-guided visits with school groups or as part of a unique gathering of homeschooled families. Since 2001, the aquarium has also offered education programs for preschoolers and their parents in the family-friendly Splash Zone exhibit galleries.
The Splash Zone/Head Start Discovery program has been a national model for engaging and connecting preschool students, teachers and families to science learning and environmental education. The program was recognized in the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy report in 2004. To date, nearly 17,000 preschoolers have participated in this one program.
The learning doesn’t stop when students leave the aquarium at the end of the day. Educators and students have access to a rich array of materials created by the aquarium’s education staff they can use – before, during and after their visit – to connect to classroom work in math, science and language arts. In fact, these are an essential component to enrich the educational experience. The curriculum materials are crafted to meet state science standards, and are tailored for different grade levels, from kindergarten through high school.
“To truly achieve our ocean conservation mission, we must engage, inspire and motivate new generations of ocean champions,” Vernon said. “Our education programs for visiting students play a vital role. They help us foster an emotional connection to the ocean, which is reinforced and supplemented throughout the child’s academic career.”
The aquarium’s growing Children’s Education Fund ensures that the aquarium’s education programs remain free for future generations.
“Exhibits are just one part of our story,” said Packard. “From the beginning, education programs have been fundamental to our vision to inspire students and teachers to care about – and care for – the oceans. This fund makes that possible.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium, acclaimed as one of the world’s finest, has attracted nearly 50 million visitors and has won national awards for its permanent and special exhibitions, its architecture, and its cultural, educational and economic impact.
The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.
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Editors: The Monterey Bay Aquarium celebrates the “2 million student” milestone on January 24 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., with participation from students from schools from the four counties (Fresno, Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz) that have brought the most visiting school groups over the years. Call Public Relations if you want to attend or for more information about and images and footage of the aquarium’s education programs.