Since it opened, the Aquarium has been committed to empowering future ocean stewards through innovative science education as a pillar of its operations. To date more than 2.3 million students and teachers have visited free of charge and taken part in a suite of education and leadership programs tailored to the needs of visiting classroom groups, science educators and emerging teen leaders.
Annually the Aquarium hosts more than 80,000 students through school programs, including children who are home schooled, at no cost to the schools. Staff-led programs take place in the auditorium, Discovery Labs or in front of signature exhibits, as is the case with thousands of Head Start preschool students who have a bilingual education specialist interpreting exhibits and engaging the children. In 2019, the Aquarium will open its new Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership, which will for the first time allow the Aquarium to offer staff-led education programs for every visiting student.
Through on-site programs, virtual workshops, conference presentations and professional development events Aquarium educators have shared ecosystem-based approaches to science education with thousands of educators throughout the years. Utilizing technology into workshops and virtual field trips continues to advance the Aquarium’s mission in new and effective ways. The new education Center will double its capacity to serve science teachers with these and similar programs.
The Aquarium is committed to providing emerging teen leaders with the tools they need to become science-literate and confident advocates for the ocean. The Aquarium’s Young Women in Science, Watsonville Areas Teens Conserving Habits (WATCH) and Teen Conservation Leader programs are all designed to engage and immerse middle and high school students. Young Women in Science pairs young women from local cities with female marine scientists to explore science-based conservation through week-long programs of ocean activities. The WATCH education program offers an educational environmental experience to local high school students, beginning with a two-week outdoor summer camp and continuing through the school year. Alongside local ecologists students learn scientific methods to evaluate the health of local wetland habitats, and share their findings in their communities and with wider audiences. Each summer, around 100 Teen Conservation Leaders provide an exceptional experience for visitors on-site and as educators in the field by interpreting exhibits and working alongside education staff to lead summer programs. Teens can also pursue other learning tracks, including working with veterinary care staff or reaching out through social media channels to inspire peers to care for the ocean.