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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Belfer

Bloom and Boom

As the school year winds down for most of the school districts, it always puts me in a reflective mood. I could write reports or post statistics about Marine CSI's successes this year. I could tally the number of schools we visited and the number of students we educated. I will do all those things, of course, but not for besting myself or topping one year to the next.

As a small business venture that began almost five years ago, it has never been about projections and profits. It has never been about beating the competition or winning the awards. I have never purposefully set out to have the most clients or educate the most students year after year. I feel, we've gotten the accolades wrong.

Can you name your favorite teachers? Can you remember your favorite classes? Can you picture yourself as a child having a guest speaker that made you want to change course for your career? These memories are fading for me, but it was the one teacher who told me we knew more about outer space than what lies beneath our oceans. It was "Man and his Environment" and having "StarLab" come to our gymnasium to set up a mobile planetarium dome. It was being accepted into a marine science program my senior year of high school that jump-started my career and I have never looked back.

When I first sat pen to paper in 2013 to create and develop the teacher resource books, my sole intention was to put the lessons and activities in the hands of the educators. I never thought about profiting from the book sales. Everything was done in-house, self-publishing, and my only way to promote them was to utilize my job with another organization to sell them at events I was tabling at.

I never took a business management course, never sat down to read money success books, and I have yet to take a workshop on Quickbooks. What I did was solely for the love of education. I love seeing the faces of children when I show them a picture of what the inside of a Leatherback sea turtle's mouth looks like (look it up on Google). Or when they get their hands wet trying to compete for food as a baleen or toothed whale. Or when the older students understand the gravity of overfishing by competing for mini-marshmallows as "crabs" in the estuary.

I've stopped wanting to bring evaluation forms to schools so teachers could give me advice on what's best for their classroom, when all classrooms are different. I've stopped asking for ideas when I've been told live animals would be better, when I know my lifestyle and business model doesn't allow me to store and keep animals alive for programs. I've tried so hard to not reinvent the wheel when it comes to professional grade videos and media (including social media platforms) and instead share others' content because I know it's still important.

I want to look at this school year as a learning experience for not just the students I've taught, but for me as well. Many people don't know this, but I struggled to maintain a part-time job in the school system as well as balance my business. When it came up that my job and business were a conflict of interest, I was devastated, having been in the school system with Marine CSI for nearly four years, and then taking on a part-time job that in no way conflicted with the work I do for the business. I have since left that job in order to focus solely on Marine CSI, but it was a reality check I needed to know that quality is better than quantity.

Businesses fail because we push our staff to the brink of exhaustion. They fail because we want to do better than the year before. Our profits must reflect our work, so we set goals and try painstakingly to reach them, only to reach higher and more the following year. Our small businesses are pushed to starvation by corporations boasting wealth and profit margins we'd never even dream of matching. All the while, we've got to pay others to keep the lights on, to maintain our overhead, and to purchase new equipment when our old stuff fails.

Marine CSI isn't just a business venture for me. Education is in my blood. I've bloomed incredibly since I was five years old, coming home from school and teaching my imaginary class what I learned that day. Every choice I've made to pursue a career in marine science education has led me to this moment, at the end of another school year, at the end of my fifth school year teaching hands-on learning experiences to students in now four counties. I've made it through hurricane damage and closures, COVID lockdowns and virtual teaching, and a conflict of interest that really wasn't.

I'm ready for my mic drop boom. I'm ready to make Marine CSI a household name, by promoting the same educational style and experience that changed my life. It's not about the cool new technology that we can use in the classroom, it's not about live animal programs, it's not even about profiting to maintain the overhead expenses. It's about teaching how each and every student can become a steward of their natural world. All it takes is one child, like me, who has a guest speaker to change their mind and point them in the right direction.

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