If you were at the beach on Sanibel last Saturday, you may have seen 20 teenagers splashing around in the ocean and having lots of fun in the sun. The joyful bunch was Sanibel Sea School and the teens from Pine Manor Improvement Association (PMIA) sharing a day of ocean celebration. Our teachers love to explore Sanibel's amazing ecosystems with kids from all walks of life, but there is something extra special about our time with the crew from PMIA, an organization that works to improve the lives of families living in the Pine Manor area of Fort Myers, a low-income neighborhood with high drop-out rates and a cohort of school-aged kids in need of some extra leadership and support. Despite living just miles from the coast, many of Pine Manor's teens have never dipped their feet in the Gulf. There's nothing better than hearing their shouts of excitement when they discover the magic of riding a surfboard or holding a slimy sea hare.
Thanks to scholarship funding from our many generous supporters, our teachers are able to spend one Saturday each month sharing the wonders of the ocean with these often landlocked kids. We snorkel through the seagrass beds, surf Sanibel's tiny waves (perfect for beginners!), and discover new favorite ocean creatures – all things a true Florida kid should get to do.
We can't be sure what these days mean to the Pine Manor kids, but we sure do get a lot of laughs, smiles, and interesting questions from them. For our teachers, it's a reminder of the value of childhood discovery. Elizabeth, one of our marine science educators, remembers how backyard adventures as a kid led her to discover, love, and want to protect nature - she says, "that's what I hope we can do for the Pine Manor kids." After all, nobody has ever decided to protect the ocean without falling in love with it first.