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SeaWorld Orlando and Orange County Public Schools Celebrate 40 Years of Partnership in Conservation Education

·7 min read
  • Since 1982, SeaWorld Orlando and Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) have provided hands-on education about conservation including marine life, veterinary care, hydroponic gardening, beekeeping, environmental conservation, and more

  • Educational activities for students include field trips, immersive experiences, hands on training, and class discussion

  • SeaWorld works closely with OCPS Eco Club students, advising them on how to build and maintain a hydroponic garden to grow lettuce for rehabilitating manatees and how to build an apiary and care for bees whose honey is used in animal wound care

  • Programs inspire next generation conservationists including eighth-grade Eco Club member Marcus Williams who plans to pursue a career in marine animal care

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ORLANDO, Fla., Aug. 9, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- SeaWorld Orlando today announced it is celebrating 40 years of partnership with Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) in providing hands-on environmental and conservation education. SeaWorld and OCPS together teach students about marine life, veterinary care, hydroponic gardening, beekeeping, environmental conservation and more through field trips, immersive experiences and class discussions. The continued partnership between SeaWorld and OCPS aims to inspire the next generation to care for the environment and make a difference in the natural world.

SeaWorld (PRNewsfoto/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment)
SeaWorld (PRNewsfoto/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment)

As part of this partnership, SeaWorld works closely with Eco Club, a group of students within OCPS dedicated to environmental conservation. Eco Club was started in 2016 at Millennia Gardens Elementary School, a Title I school with a 95 percent minority population and 100 percent involvement in the free and reduced lunch program. Students in Eco Club learn about marine life, agriculture, conservation and the natural world through fun, hands-on activities centered around environmental education.

"Eco Club gives students an outlet to learn about the natural world in ways that we never thought possible," said Dawn Chehab, teacher at Millennia Gardens Elementary School and founding staff member of Eco Club. "We are so grateful for the interactive educational experiences SeaWorld continues to provide. It truly makes learning these important topics fun for the students."

SeaWorld Helps Students Create Hydroponic Gardens to Grow Restaurant Grade Lettuce to Feed Rehabilitating Manatees and Build Apiaries for Honey Used in Animal Wound Care

To learn more about gardening and agriculture, students in Eco Club built a 50-tower hydroponic garden with the ability to grow more than 1,000 heads of lettuce at a time. After the lettuce was successfully grown and SeaWorld helped the students secure restaurant-grade certification, Eco Club was invited to SeaWorld Orlando's Rescue and Rehabilitation Center where they were able to help feed the lettuce to the manatees. Eco Club continues to provide this lettuce to the manatees at SeaWorld Orlando and visits the park annually to participate in the feedings.

Students in Eco Club at Westridge Middle School built and continue to maintain an on-campus apiary to raise honeybees and learn about beekeeping. The students bottle up the honey produced in this apiary and donate gallons to SeaWorld Orlando's Rescue & Rehabilitation Center. The honey is then used by SeaWorld's animal care experts to heal wounds on injured rescued animals.

In-Park Education Experiences at SeaWorld Enable Students to Learn More about Animal Care and Conservation

Each year, the students in Eco Club are invited to stay overnight behind-the-scenes at SeaWorld's Rescue and Rehabilitation Center with animals like manatees and sea turtles. During this camp sleepover, students take a deep educational dive to learn all about different marine animal species and the efforts taken to ensure their conservation. Students are given the opportunity to shadow members of the SeaWorld Rescue team and learn about veterinary medicine, animal rehabilitation, observe surgeries and learn how to make formula for manatee calves.

In addition, SeaWorld invites Eco Club members from Millennia Gardens Elementary and Westridge Middle School to take a field trip to visit SeaWorld Orlando annually. Each student is accompanied by their teacher and one parent for a full day of fun and hands-on education to learn more about marine animal conservation and care.

Programs Inspire Next Generation Conservationists, including Eighth Grader Marcus Williams

Marcus Williams was a founding member of Eco Club when he was in third grade at Millennia Gardens Elementary. Now an eighth grader, Marcus has extended Eco Club into Westridge Middle School and plans to bring the club to high school next year. In the future, Marcus hopes to expand the footprint of Eco Club into schools across America. He believes it is an essential program that could help shape the future of students nationwide, ensuring that conservation is at the forefront of education.

"Eco Club has opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities I never thought were possible," said Marcus Williams, student at Westridge Middle School and founding member of Eco Club. "My experience with SeaWorld has helped me discover my true passions: helping animals, caring for the environment and making a difference in the world."

Marcus has dreams of becoming a member of SeaWorld Rescue when he grows up—much like his role model Jon Peterson, VP of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando and head of the SeaWorld Orlando Rescue team. One day, Marcus hopes to take over and lead SeaWorld Rescue to help as many animals as possible.

Jon Peterson added, "Working with the students at Orange County Public Schools has been one of the most rewarding and special experiences I've had in my career. I have no doubt that these students will grow up to make meaningful changes for the environment and I feel humbled to have played a role in their education."

Instilling Conservation Education in Youth Provides Hope for the Future of the Environment

Students like Marcus have said that involvement in Eco Club, hands-on education from OCPS teachers and time spent with SeaWorld leaders have influenced them and their families to use less water, recycle materials, treat animals with kindness and live eco-friendly lives. The partnership between SeaWorld and OCPS has brought heightened awareness to the issues plaguing the environment, such as the manatees' unusual mortality event, pollution and climate change. Immersion in the industry also helps students consider potential career paths in animal care and environmental conservation.

"Providing students with the ability to visit SeaWorld, explore the rescue center and learn about marine life and conservation opens their eyes to career opportunities that would otherwise not be available to them," said Deborah Pedraza, Executive Director at the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools. "This exposure to veterinary medicine, ocean conservation and caring for the planet instills the importance of environmental consciousness in the students."

SeaWorld has worked alongside students in Eco Club to help them learn about philanthropy and the importance of giving back to their communities in creative ways, seeing themselves as important contributors to society. Students have written letters to key legislators to facilitate environmental policy change, made lettuce and honey donations to animals in need and educated other students on their learnings within the partnership. These students have been taught the important lesson that they can make a significant difference, even at a young age.

About SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. (NYSE: SEAS) is a leading theme park and entertainment company providing experiences that matter, and inspiring guests to protect animals and the wild wonders of our world. The Company is one of the world's foremost zoological organizations and a global leader in animal welfare, training, husbandry, and veterinary care. The Company collectively cares for what it believes is one of the largest zoological collections in the world and has helped lead advances in the care of animals. The Company also rescues and rehabilitates marine and terrestrial animals that are ill, injured, orphaned, or abandoned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. The SeaWorld® rescue team has helped more than 40,000 animals in need over the Company's history.  SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. owns or licenses a portfolio of recognized brands including SeaWorld®, Busch Gardens®, Aquatica®, Sesame Place® and Sea Rescue®. Over its more than 60-year history, the Company has built a diversified portfolio of 12 destination and regional theme parks that are grouped in key markets across the United States, many of which showcase its one-of-a-kind zoological collection. The Company's theme parks feature a diverse array of rides, shows and other attractions with broad demographic appeal which deliver memorable experiences and a strong value proposition for its guests.

Media Contact:

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SOURCE SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment