Teacher at Sea alumni find creative ways to bring the sea home to students
NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program provides unique hands-on ocean research experiences for educators, and many participants have described their experiences as life-changing. However, the true demonstration of our program’s value comes in the months and years after teachers sail with NOAA, as they work to find creative ways to share what they’ve gained with their students, schools, local communities, and the general public.
The Teacher at Sea Program’s Alumni Association exists to track and support these outreach efforts, thereby amplifying the program’s benefits. In fiscal year 2016, alumni participated in 35 events tied to their experiences at sea, including presentations, workshops, conferences, field trips, and other outreach opportunities. A total of 62 alumni volunteered or gave presentations about their experience at eight local, regional, and national conferences. Other program alumni collaborated with as many as 30 NOAA scientists via field trips and classroom visits. These collective efforts reached thousands of students and members of the community.
One standout example of this continued Teacher at Sea alumni–NOAA partnership comes from Huntsville, Alabama. Teacher Sue Zupko, inspired by her at-sea experiences in 2011 and 2014, launched an annual ocean-themed festival for students and families at her school. On April 15, 2016, Ms. Zupko hosted the second annual Seven Seas Celebration at Weatherly Heights Elementary. More than 200 students and parents attended the marine science and math activity night. Participants made nautical flags, weighed and measured fish that they created, followed the drifter buoy that was launched during Ms. Zupko’s 2014 research cruise, and played ocean-themed games. Students collected Pokémon-inspired marine life cards at each station.
With support from the program, NOAA Corps Lieutenant (LT) Jonathan Heesch traveled to Huntsville for the event and taught students about the importance of ship safety. LT Heesch brought water survival suits for the students to try wearing, and they had fun racing to see who could don their suit the fastest. “Ultimately, through the process of having fun, the kids received an understanding of the dangers posed by being at sea and a solid exposure to the possibility of a career at sea,” said LT Heesch.
By maintaining strong relationships with our program alumni, we are able to see the lasting benefits to the educators, their students, and their school communities.