Earlier this month, the City2 Sea youth educational program brought 15 teenagers from the Los Angeles Police Department North Hollywood division’s Jeopardy “Balancing the Odds” program for a trip into Santa Monica Bay, where inner city youth had the opportunity to fish, see blue whales, dolphins and sea lions and get a general feel of what the local waters have to offer.

These kids, like so many others, live relatively close to the Pacific Ocean, but have never had any real interaction with it.

While City2 Sea is normally a hands-on floating classroom, that day it was back to its roots – an outreach to at-risk kids that would hopefully promote curiosity, awareness and interest in something so close, but yet so far from their comfort zones.

In 2003 John Sakacs started doing trips like these for his organization called the Kids & Fishing program on his 24-foot Sea Ray. Sakacs targeted mostly teenaged kids whom he felt would benefit most from a day on the ocean and, on his own dime, he ran these trips for years.

But over time, he said the program has evolved into more of a teaching vehicle and today, City2 Sea has become a true educational component acting as a partner with school systems by providing a facility for science students to perform on-board experiments. In 2010 City2 Sea became aligned with California state educational standards in science.

“It’s about experiential learning,” said Sakacs. “When these kids are looking back 40 years from now, are they more likely to remember information about, let’s say, a blue whale’s migration pattern that they read about in a book or the day they saw an actual blue whale dive a few hundred feet off the bow of the boat they were on?”

Currently, City2 Sea is working with Animo Leadership Charter High School in Inglewood, which is part of Green Dot Public Schools that contains 19 schools. Some of the classrooms have integrated the City2 Sea journeys into their curriculums, while others use the trips as independent field studies to simply promote curiosity and remind students of the reality behind the science they are involved with. In addition, the program also provides much-needed live samples that many schools can no longer get their hands on.

“The strength of the City2 Sea program may be the ability to foster real curiosity through natural, empirical science,” said Dave Anderson, a participating teacher from Animo. “Scientific curiosity, above all other factors, is key to creating young scientists. And where biology classrooms have all but removed living organisms, City2 Sea puts them back in spades,”

The program now has two boats in the fleet – a Laguna 38 and a 50-foot trawler. The boats are fully equipped with learning stations, microscopes, monitors for videos and other tools for handling marine samples.

The classes are typically four hours long and usually consist of 20 to 25 students with one teacher or scientist providing the lesson of the day. Animo students aboard a City2 Sea boat might find themselves studying plankton, doing species identification, dissecting a mackerel, examining jellyfish or a myriad of other possibilities – depending on the day and time of year.

Sakacs and his fellow board members are excited about how City2 Sea is being received within the educational world and are hoping to see the model be reproduced in other parts of the United States. They are proud they can offer the program at no cost to the schools, providing them with a meaningful learning program at a time when budget cuts are stifling educators at every turn.

“It can be replicated,” said volunteer Mark Wittcoff. “Others in other regions are going to be able to look at what we’ve done and do the same thing in other parts of the country.”

But in the short-term, Sakacs is concerned with keeping the bills paid to ensure City2 Sea is accessible and is calling upon local boaters to consider the option of donating a used boat.

With a more substantial program comes more substantial bills. There’s fuel, slip fees, boat maintenance, marketing costs, transportation, food and administrative costs to contend with. Sakacs is quick to point out the benefits of boat donation beyond the sheer benevolence of the act.

“Let’s assume that someone is doing very well in life and they have a boat that they don’t use that they can get a high appraisal on,” Sakacs points out. “Assuming the donor is in a 50 percent tax bracket and the boat is let’s say, $130,000 – that’s a $65,000 write off that might be better than selling it in a market where he might only get $30 – 40,000 for it.”

At the end of the day volunteers and organizers of City2 Sea are hopeful that their organization invokes change – change in how young people learn and change in how these same young people see the world in which they live and study.

“Native Americans talk about thinking six or seven generations ahead and unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve been trained to think that way, but I’m trying to do that,” Sakacs said. “I’d like to play a part in seeing the oceans handed off to some people who really care about it.”

For more information about City2 Sea, www.city2sea.org.

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