Ocean Kids Day brings marine life to campus

Rho Rho Rho, the University of Miami’s marine science honors fraternity, is working with the Future Interests in Nature and the Sea (FINSEA) Foundation in conjunction with the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric science to plan a “fin-tastic” Ocean Kids Day on campus.

The event, which will take place on Nov. 22 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the University Green, will bring together 100 elementary school students from underprivileged schools in Overtown and Liberty City to learn about the wonders and depths of the ocean, in the hopes of inspiring them to take greater interest in protecting and understanding the importance of their environment.

“We really hope that we’re able to expose [underprivileged] students to what we all love, to see a dolphin, a colorful fish. We want to share with them our passion for the ocean and give them an opportunity to instill their own love for the ocean,” said Chelsea Werner, a junior and vice president of Rho Rho Rho.

Both Rho Rho Rho and the Marine Mammal Stranding Team at UM have worked diligently for months with FINSEA and the Rosenstiel School to ensure the success of this event. There will be a total of 10 stations, including a touch tank of live marine organisms, a squid dissection and a snorkeling and scuba gear demonstration. Event organizers hope to have at least five volunteers at each station, with one designated teacher chosen ahead of time from UM marine science students.

“In a way, I want these kids to be my students,” said Jill Richardson, the faculty adviser for Ocean Kids and the director of FINSEA. “I want them to be inspired, to create confidence and pride in them about the ocean.”

Richardson stressed how many underprivileged areas do not have the resources or money to educate their students about environmental awareness. Richardson hopes the event creates a trickle-down effect, creating marine life interest in college students as well as the young students.

“We really want this to be a one-on-one personal interaction between the young students and the UM students,” Werner said.

The program will split the day into two sessions, 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and will host 50 students each from Dunbar Elementary of Overtown and Holmes Elementary of Liberty City. The two schools, which are underperforming and underprivileged, have some of the highest rates for free and reduced lunch, a federal program that pays for student’s lunches.

“One of the science teachers we are working with from the elementary schools told me that they are so amazed we are doing this program for their students. She said this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience and that they are so thankful,” Richardson said.

Richardson also acknowledged how impressed and thankful she is for the students working on this project with her.

“I am working with the most dedicated group of students. Their response to this event has been amazing,” she said.

With help from companies like Publix, who donated 100 green-friendly grocery bags to use as goody bags for the children, and both the BankUnited Center and Dolphin Stadium, Ocean Kids is continuously looking for support to ensure that the event is a success.

“We hope to make this an annual event,” Werner said. “But it’s always hardest the first year, organizing everything and receiving enough funding.”

With two weeks to go before the local elementary students arrive on campus for their day of ocean fun, the volunteers and marine science students are working in overdrive to make this first-ever Ocean Kids event an achievement that will reach into the youth of Miami and inspire their minds.

“I want to create a future generation of marine scientists that are conscience of the community around them, I want them to be involved with more than just research,” Richardson said. “I want them to foster change.”

To volunteer the day of Ocean Kids please contact Kait Birgenthal at k.birgenthal1@umiami.edu.

To make a direct donation to Ocean Kids go to www.finsea.org.