A Restructuring of Environmental Education at SCCF

by Mason Goss, Ed.D., SCCF Senior Director of Education

Education has always been a tenet of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) and Sanibel Sea School (SX3). Through the visionary leadership of Ryan Orgera, Ph.D., and the SCCF Board of Trustees, the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation begins the 2021-22 season with a restructured education department.

The department now consists of Sanibel Sea School, Coastal Watch, Native Landscapes and Garden Center, Ocean Tribe Paddlers, traditional SCCF programs such as “Evenings at the Homestead,” and various adult environmental courses and lectures. The ultimate goal of this department is to bring people closer to nature in order to inspire change. Educational offerings such as those offered by Sanibel Sea School and SCCF adult initiatives inspire residents and visitors alike to value and care for our oceans and local ecosystems.

SCCF educators aspire to promote environmental literacy, thereby leading to changed hearts and minds. We recognize and celebrate the fact that learning is a process, a life-long process. How we “educate” is firmly grounded in the concept of experiential education. As John Dewey espoused years ago, lessons are learned and behaviors are altered through experiences. Through use of both our senses and our emotions, the experiences had in nature impact our world view and our actions.

The idea of experiential education is foundational to SCCF. Experiencing the outdoors is the most important mechanism through which individuals develop an appreciation and empathy for our local ecosystems and waters. We want to implant the wonders of the outside world inside the hearts of others. Taking in the smells, sights, tastes and textures of nature is not only good for the soul, it is good for the heart and mind. One cannot help but appreciate the beauty, peace and value of nature when deep in the mangal or floating on our local waters. SCCF educators believe in the value of being in nature to learn of nature.

While not intending to inadvertently make a political statement by referencing a federal agency, the United States Environmental Protection Agency provides a philosophy of environmental education aligning nicely with that held by SCCF educators.

Environmental education is a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment. As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.gov).

In mid-August 2021, Dr. Mason Goss joined SCCF as Senior Director of Education for SCCF. Mason comes to SCCF with a background in educational leadership and deep connections to Southwest Florida. As Senior Director of Education, Mason’s intent is to establish a cohesive and integrated environmental education department which meets the needs of children and adults.

Under the strong leadership of Shannon Stainken, Youth Education Director, Sanibel Sea School will continue teaching children about the ocean and local ecosystems. A longtime marine science educator for Sanibel Sea School, Shannon leads a team of four marine science and youth educators.

SCCF adult educational programming is led by long-serving SCCF stalwart Jenny Evans in her new role as Adult Education Director. Jenny continues to be responsible for the Native Landscapes and Garden Center as well as coordinating volunteer-led walking tours, the use of our nature trails, and adult education opportunities such as “Evenings at the Homestead.”

Sanibel Sea School and Ocean Tribe Paddlers veteran Kealy McNeal serves as the new Community Conservation Coordinator. With a background in conservation, marine science education and paddle sports, Kealy is perfectly suited for her new role of leading community conservation efforts, to include Coastal Watch, Ocean Tribe Paddlers, and our mobile marine laboratory.

The mission of SCCF is to protect and care for Southwest Florida’s coastal ecosystems. Reinforcing this organizational purpose is the articulated mission of Sanibel Sea School and its programs; to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time. We are one organization with the united mission of improving, protecting and caring for our local natural resources. Come and experience the wonder of nature with us. Whether a leisurely stroll on a nature trail or a strenuous paddle across the Sound, SCCF educators can help open one’s eyes to the complexities and beauty of our natural world. Enjoy the process of learning something new!

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