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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Belfer

Reflections on Virtual Conferencing

This year has hit all of us in an unprecedented way, so much so, that we are unable to meet in large numbers at conference events. Yet, we take stock in the fact that sometimes going virtual has its benefits, like being able to afford a conference you may not have been able to afford before. Or having the ability to get access to the session discussions if you were unable to go to them while you were attending another. These session videos are now available for an entire year after the conference, so that you can watch them and reference them long after you've spilled coffee on your notes (or lost them).

This year, Marine CSI's owner and Director of Education, Kimberly, attended the NAAEE2020 Virtual Conference. NAAEE stands for North American Association for Environmental Education and comprises formal and informal educators from all over North America. This virtual conference saw such a rise in attendance, that people and organizations were represented from around the globe! We would love to share some of the highlights and cool takeaways from this conference.

With the theme of this year's conference being "Inspire Change," we're hoping to make a few essential changes to not only the way we conduct our business, but the way in which we teach our lessons. The environment is for everyone, so the main subtheme of this conference was inclusion for all. In the wake of changes happening all across the country and world, with systemic racism and white misogyny being openly recognized and called to the surface, we are taking stock in the fact that we want all children to understand and embrace marine and environmental science. It has always been our mission to provide cost-efficient lessons to schools in marginalized regions.

We'd like to share two quotes from the first night of the conference. "Be inspired by the smallest to the largest things" (Audrey Peterman) and "We share an existence with nature. Same water, same air, same space, same fate." (Drew Lanham) The mission and goal of our lessons and our company is to inspire people to care about the world around them, from the smallest krill to the largest blue whale that eats them. We would like to do better at showing students how we are interconnected with our environment through the cycles of life and the natural history of the land in which we live on.

Yet, being of the same water, same air, same space, and same fate does not take into account equity and the disparity of finding solutions for a better existence together. Through this conference, we at Marine CSI realized that we can do better for all of the communities we serve, by making our website, our Facebook page, and our programs and lessons more equitable to people of color, people in marginalized communities, and people of all genders. Over the next week, you will see some changes to our website that will reflect this new inspiring equity. We will also be doing a lot of research into the natural history of the Cape Fear region, so that we can incorporate these native stories into our lessons when we come and teach at area schools.

Another great addition to our Watershed Walkabout: Cape Fear program will be the inclusion of pre-visit videos that we will record prior coming to schools for a lesson. Once a teacher signs up for an in-school visit from us, we will send them a video giving their students background information about the ecosystem we'll be doing an activity on. So, for example, if we're going to do our Sea Level is On the Rise lesson, about diamondback terrapin habitat erosion, we're going to send a video from the salt marsh-tidal creek ecosystem!

We will be including a lot more photos of our programs on our website, blog, and Facebook page so that more people can see our lessons in action. We want our photos to reflect the actual students we teach because they are the faces of tomorrow. We respect any parent's choice not to have their children photographed for internet purposes, so we will be working with teachers to maintain photo release forms and permission slips for our programs.

We also would like to begin working on guiding teachers to include more STEM, STEAM, and marine and environmental science into their curriculum. As one third of our business model, we do provide teacher trainers. These will include collaborations with individual schools, districts, and teachers to create a Marine CSI cohort. We would love to develop a Marine CSI certification program and will be working with the National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) as well as the Mid-Atlantic chapter (MAMEA) to work out the details.

Because a sense of place is so important to understanding where we've come from and where we're going, we want to ensure that every student that receives our program, every parent that purchases an Explore Your Watershed Adventure Guide, and every teacher that utilizes our resource books, has a complete life history of the place in which we interact with nature. If we want a better life for our children and their children, then we must take the necessary steps forwards to include everyone in the natural learning process.

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