|"Kids see the ocean all the time, but they don't appreciate it until they are out there."|
Education Specialist, Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary
The goal of almost every environmental education program for students in kindergarten through 12th grade is to develop environmental stewardship in its participants. After 13 years, an education program in American Samoa can demonstrate its success in developing student interest in the environment and science.
"You can observe and see that the kids are more environmentally conscious when they leave the program," says Allamanda Amituanai, education specialist for Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary. "We're also seeing participants putting in more science projects at schools and seeing them pick marine science and terrestrial issues to study at the community college," subjects that traditionally have suffered from low student interest.
Children ages eight through twelve participate in EnviroDiscoveries Camps produced every summer by Le Tausagi, a collaboration between educators at the sanctuary and educators working for various agencies in the American Samoan government.
Nearly 90 children participate in three camp sessions, in addition to camp graduates who return as junior counselors. The summer sessions consist of three-day overnight camping trips along the coast that include activities such as hiking, swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking lessons. Education activities also teach the students to help care for and protect the marine environment.
"Kids see the ocean all the time, but they don't appreciate it until they are out there," Amituanai says. "They get to go out to wetlands and touch the muddy soil, smell and feel the different trees—there are a lot of activities going on during the camps."
The camps teach the students about environmental features, such as different kinds of trees and plants, invasive species, corals, sea turtles, and fish.
The sanctuary staff hosts and organizes the camps, and the other government agencies conduct many of the camp activities and help fund the program, which is free to participants. The Le Tausagi collaborators do everything from fixing the meals for the students to providing alternative activities if it rains.
To alert students about the opportunity to attend the camps, sanctuary staff members make presentations at the schools, advertise in the local paper, and send out press releases to local media. Applications are evaluated and participants accepted on a first-come basis.
Amituanai notes that EnviroDiscoveries has developed and changed over the years from a four-hour day camp to the sleepover events. "It's evolving," she says. "We're always exploring ways to improve the program."She adds, "I think this would work anywhere. I don't think this is just special for us. Kids everywhere don't understand what we have unless you take them out and let them feel and touch."
For more information on the EnviroDiscoveries Camps, contact Allamanda Amituanai at (684) 633-7354, or Manda.Amituanai@noaa.gov.