Summer Gig as an Underwater Explorers Instructor

For a few month, I will be teaching kids (8-13) to surface SCUBA dive in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Great Tide Pool, through the Underwater Explorers program.
Of all of the positions I’ve held at the Aquarium, this one is by far the most fun, flexible, and provides the best opportunity to get young people interested in learning more about nature and the ocean, and ultimately to be the next generation of scientists, policy makers, educators, and stewards of our natural resources.
The program is pretty amazing in that it allows kids to bypass lengthy training courses, and to get in the Bay immediately. They get a short orientation talk, put a $2k dry suit right on top of their street clothes, don hoods, gloves, booties, masks, and SCUBA equipment, and start exploring in under 30 minutes from the start of the program.
Many kids are nervous when they first step into the water, but once they start seeing the fish, sea stars, anemonies, chitons, crabs, algae, and other organisms, most of them become fearless. It usually only takes a few minutes of coaching until the kids are able to balance in the water and get into the swing of swimming with all of the gear on.
I try to get my students to experience as much stuff as possible. I have them feel the rough-velvety mantle of a gumboot chiton on their face, eat some giant kelp (and explain that algin and keragenin are common emulsifiers that they can find in many foods and toothpastes), to feel gently prod an anemone, to catch crabs, to feed monkeyface eels, and to explore all of the things in the Great Tide Pool. By connecting these things to their everyday lives and experiences, we are helping these kids to understand and ultimately fall in love with the ocean and with nature at large.
It’s awesome to hear a kid say that they want to become a marine biologist, that they now want to go SCUBA diving as soon as they are old enough, that they can’t wait to learn more about the oceans, that they want to stay in the water forever, and that they’re no longer scared of the water or the things that lay in them.
In 30 minutes, you can accomplish a lot. It’s not just the students that benefit from the program, it’s also the parents. They are so happy to see their kids learning, having fun, conquering their fears, and doing what they love to do, or in many cases doing what they wish they could have done when they were kids (or just something they wish they could do period). I can see the instructors growing as well, as students, as educators, and as individuals. Everyone wins in the end.
We send them home with a log book in which they record the conditions of the GTP, mark off what animals they saw, and recall other things that they experienced. In addition, all participants get a cup of hot cocoa. The program is simply a win-win experience for everyone involved.