The nonprofit Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, offers volunteer opportunities for people of all ages, from young children to seniors. In recent years it has enhanced its volunteer programs for teens, allowing middle and high school students to engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning and explore marine life and ocean topics. These programs range from students volunteering to provide exhibit interpretation for Aquarium visitors to connecting their peers to science professionals working in STEM fields, and even traveling abroad to help support marine research.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited the teen volunteers from continuing in their normal roles, and many of these programs were halted. Many students who had built a connection to the Aquarium expressed their desire to remain involved, so the Aquarium created a new online volunteer opportunity for sixth to twelfth graders called Ocean Neighbors Project. This ten-week program allows the teens to continue their work to share their love of the ocean with others through yard signs displaying ocean animal information.
Each week Ocean Neighbors Project participants log on to an interactive program led by Aquarium educators to learn about marine animals and habitats. This lesson focuses on a specific group of marine animals. Participants then select a species from that group to display on their sign. To build their STEM skills, students must do additional research on the animal that they select, cite their sources, and then submit their work for approval. Once checked for accuracy the students’ yard signs are ready for display. Using the knowledge they gain, the teens create yard signs with text and drawings to help educate their neighbors about marine biology, environmental science, and the Pacific Ocean.
Each student receives a kit with supplies to create their yard sign based on that week’s lesson. In 2020 a total of twenty-five students participated in the Ocean Neighbors Project. Their neighbors have reported enjoying reading the signs and learning about marine life on their walks.
The Ocean Neighbors program has helped the Aquarium continue to connect with its teen volunteers and encourage ocean science learning during the pandemic. The participating students gain knowledge about marine life and communication and teaching skills by creating the yard signs to share what they have learned with their neighbors.
Those interested in volunteering at the Aquarium can visit: aquariumofpacific.org/volunteer to learn more and submit an application.
Quotes from participants:
“I enjoyed—no, loved—volunteering in this program. It has helped me bring the ocean to my neighborhood even through these tough times. I have been able to teach not only my neighbors but my family, friends, and anyone who happened to walk or drive by. I may not be able to go to the Aquarium of the Pacific or the beach but I can certainly bring it home, and that is what the Ocean Neighbors Volunteer program has done for me.”
“Ocean Neighbors has helped not only instill a greater love for the ocean and all its inhabitants in me but it has also helped me speak up more and feel like I am a part of something big. It has definitely kept me motivated during this pandemic especially when I see how it brightens other people’s days when they pass by and read my sign.”
“This program has shaped me by forcing me to step out of my comfort zone and into kind of the unknown of educating people from home. This program got me more open to people in my neighborhood and open to the ways that just the little things can inspire people.”
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific