2017-06-15 / Arts & Entertainment News

Hendry County to the sea

Director of Education, Sanibel Sea School

The Sanibel Sea School has been educating kids about the ocean for over 10 years. 
COURTESY PHOTO The Sanibel Sea School has been educating kids about the ocean for over 10 years. COURTESY PHOTO Sanibel Sea School has been sharing the ocean with children for over 10 years. We educate children from all walks of life — kids from right here in Lee County, international students, homeschool kids on Sanibel, and kids who don’t always have the opportunity to visit the ocean. It’s the latter who offer the most meaningful and rewarding experiences, for both the kids and us. These are kids growing up in Florida, who live 10 miles from the beach but hardly ever get to feel the waves crash over their feet or taste the salty breeze — we call them our “Landlocked” kids. Over the years, we’ve given hundreds of landlocked kids the opportunity to connect with the ocean and a confidence that can’t be measured.

In the fall of 2016, our Landlocked program was about to grow in a very special way. A friend of Sanibel Sea School connected us with Ms. Nanlyn Akin, a gifted and talented teacher at Upthegrove Elementary School in Hendry County. Ms. Akin described her small class of bright and eager-to- learn students to us. These kids are in second grade to fifth grade, have a hunger to learn and excel at math, science and reading.

FINNICUM FINNICUM These kids have the world ahead of them but may not get opportunities that other kids have because they live in an economically depressed region of South Florida, Hendry County. Despite their knowledge, many of them have never dipped a toe in our seagrass beds or don’t often get the opportunity to cross that big causeway bridge. Once we learned about these kids, it was our goal to get them to the ocean.

Our first field trip with Ms. Akin’s class was one to remember. It was an overcast, chilly day in November and seagrass was the topic of the day. Upon arriving, the students were excited but apprehensive. “Are there sharks in there?” “What if I can’t swim?” These were just some of the questions the students were asking. But after a short lesson in the misty rain, the kids built up the courage to take their first steps in the water with a seine net. Almost immediately, we heard shrills and laughter, and watched those apprehensions fade away.

Since that first trip, we’ve discussed beach communities, sand dollar populations, mollusk biology and dolphin communication. But more importantly, since that first trip, the kids have touched creatures they never have before, overcame their fears, and were pushed out of their comfort zones. Those experiences have impacted each child in Ms. Akin’s class by creating memories that they will cherish forever. On our last field trip, each student made a pledge to the ocean — something that they want to do to protect the ocean. Some will recycle more. Some will use less plastic. Some will pick up trash in their neighborhoods. But all have a newfound love and respect for our ocean. ¦

Sanibel Sea School is a 501( c)( 3) nonprofit located on Sanibel Island. Its mission is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. To learn more, visit www.sanibelseaschool.org.

— This summer, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2017 competitive grant cycle. The foundation asked 2017 grantees to write their stories.

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