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It has taken me a while to completely wrap my head around exactly what we were able to accomplish in our five-day visit to the Guelph, Ontario area of Canada. Last fall I connected with Mr. Joe Grabowski’s 6th grade students as part of the Exploring Oceans program Skype In The Classroom launched. They were my first visit as part of this program and we had an amazing chat. The kids immediately wanted to do more and Joe’s love of scuba diving and ocean was already an inspiration for them. They wrote a well thought out and focused letter to the premier regarding the shark cull in Western Australia. They received a lackluster response, but remained hopeful and respectful, writing another concise and well thought out letter.
Derek followed with another Skype visit and taught them all about shark tagging including work we have done in Shark Bay Western Australia with tiger sharks; the main capture of the shark cull. Derek and I were discussing how passionate Joe’s students were and thinking out loud we mentioned visiting them in person. We casually mentioned this to Joe via email and what evolved was far beyond anything we could have hoped for.
Joe went to work and arranged EVERYTHING! He approached the Wellington Catholic School Board and one visit turned into twenty schools with the support of the entire school board. He also secured donated meals, a rental car and our hotel rooms! We were completely blown away before we even arrived in Canada with the incredible effort Joe put forth to make this idea a reality.
We arrived in Toronto on the evening of Sunday June 8 and were greeted by not only Joe, but also Allan Asselin, the superintendent, and his wife Bonnie. I think I saw my superintendent once the entire time from grad 6-12, so we felt really honored to have such a warm welcome to kick off our trip! Allan and Bonnie drove over an hour each way just to make sure they were there to meet us and this was just the start of the community support we received!
We settled into our donated rooms at the Holiday Inn and tried to get some rest before our 6:30 am start. Each day we split up and did 4 presentations, so 12 in total each day. Each group we spoke to was about 200 students! We used libraries, cafeterias, gyms and classrooms to share sharks with these amazing kids. I spoke with grades K-3, Duncan spoke with 4-6 and Derek did 7-8 or high school. Duncan and I could only do 3 full days of visits, so Derek rocked 3 entire schools by himself on Thursday and 3 more on Friday! We also talked to community members on one of the evenings.
Joe had coordinated all the audio and visual logistics, so all we had to do was walk in and connect our computers. He drove us around, made sure we were well fed and single handedly made the entire thing run incredible smooth. We literally could not have done this without him. Aside from a couple of electronic issues, the entire week was smooth sailing. We were also able to eat lunch with his class one day, as Duncan presented to them, but Derek and I wanted a chance to meet them in person and chat! It was so much fun and we posed for lots of pictures as we stuffed lunch in our faces!
One teacher asked me if I drew the short straw and had to speak to the youngest kids, but I actually prefer the little ones. Duncan, Derek and I work really well together because our presentations were nicely split, which allowed us to bring the most age appropriate information to each group, each with the overall message of shark conservation. Students in Kindergarten through third grade are excited and this is a critical age to empower them with facts about sharks before they are too jaded with media hysteria and the JAWS mentality. I was so impressed with the knowledge they already had and how many had seen sharks at the local aquarium. They had such positive energy and were eager to make posters and do their part to help sharks. One of our main goals is to empower kids with facts and to encourage them to speak up because they can make a difference.
Duncan shared his work filming sharks and other marine life around the world with his groups and they were absolutely fascinated, watching sharks swimming around. They loved the fact that the cameras sometimes even weigh more than they do. Sharing images and videos is a powerful way to connect kids with the ocean and connections create compassion. Seeing how graceful and beautiful these animals are also eliminates some of the fear or misunderstanding they might have.
“From the students and teachers to the businesses and entire community, we were received with open arms during our outreach to Guelph It was amazing teaching the importance of our oceans to kids in a landlocked location. No matter where you live we all need the ocean.”- Duncan Brake
Derek spoke to the older kids and was able to share with them his shark tagging work around the world with the NSU Guy Harvey Research Institute and why it is so critical. The kids loved being able to see the track of a live shark (who wouldn’t, it is AMAZING) as it traveled around the ocean sending information to satellites via a tag deployed on its dorsal fin. Science is at the heart of conservation and needed to create laws and regulations to protect not only sharks, but also our oceans and natural environments. Sharing real life science with kids as it is happening is an invaluable tool in connecting the whole system and also demonstrating why sharks need protection on a global scale, not just regional.
“The Sharks4Kids 2014 Guelph Tour was an incredibly successful and humbling trip. The community and the school board came together in a huge way to support the program for the week. I loved the experiences with the students; I had so many excited, inspired, and engaging questions from the kids of all ages throughout the week. This trip really reinforced the mission of Sharks4Kids for me, education of the younger generations about sharks and the numerous other issues that our oceans are facing is imperative to help protect and secure a health ocean and planet for future generations. The Guelph community was so welcoming and supportive, it was an honor to visit and hopefully leave with 5000 new ocean and shark advocates!”
We had a woman walk up to us in Subway and ask if we were the shark people. We had spoken to her daughter’s school and she had come home telling her mother not to be afraid of sharks and wanting to make posters to save them. We all had the biggest smiles on our faces because it meant our message had gone through and was inspiring change! We each also got to pop in and watch each other’s talks and hands in every room were flying up with eager questions and we were all mobbed like rock stars as we packed up at the end of each talk. “I love sharks.” “ I want to be a marine biologist.” “ I want to help sharks.” Were all said to us each day and I know each one of us will never get tired of hearing those words spoken by a child!
As a group we gathered all the students from St. John’s (Joe’s School) and collected in the gym for a photograph. I found myself tearing up because I was so overwhelmed with what we were actually accomplishing. I came up with the idea for Sharks4Kids in 2008 and was now standing in the middle of my dream, as it was becoming a reality. I have to stop here and thank the first two people on our very long list and that is Derek Burkholder and Duncan Brake. These two men are my best friends and none of this would be possible without their love and support. They have worked tirelessly to bring an idea to fruition and I cannot thank them enough.
We spent each night having a dinner at local restaurants and chatted about the day’s visits. We enjoyed amazing food and met incredible staff at each location. They asked us great questions, posed for pictures and expressed their gratitude for our visit. Every single person we met had kind words to say and made us feel right at home! This is a true reflection of a remarkable community. The Guelph area is the kind of place you want to call home and I honestly hope we get to visit again. In just five days were able to speak to OVER 5000 STUDENTS! This is a number and accomplishment we still cannot believe! Together we really can make a difference!
I would like to start off by thanking Joe Grabowski, his wife Liz and his shark-loving son Finn, who at 18 month is already as obsessed with sharks as his dad! He will definitely be a Sharks4Kids Shark Ambassador in the near future. Joe went above and beyond at every moment and we really cannot fully express our gratitude. Your students and the entire community are very fortunate to have you as an educator. You are changing the world for the better and every student would be lucky to have a teacher like you!
I would also like to thank our dear friends Dony and Michelle Zaidi who traveled from Toronto to spend a day filming and photographing our adventure. They are two of the most passionate and driven people I have ever met and we all feel lucky to have them involved in our Sharks4Kids program!
Thank to the schools and our sponsors:
Holy Rosary Catholic School, Holy Trinity Catholic School, Mary Phelan Catholic School, Sacred Heart Catholic School
St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic School, St. John Catholic School – Arthur
St. John Catholic School – Guelph, St. John Brebeuf Catholic School, St. Joseph Catholic School – Fergus
St. Joseph Catholic School – Guelph, St. Mary Catholic School – Elora, St. Mary Catholic School – Mount Forest
St. Michael Catholic School, St. Patrick Catholic School, St. Peter Catholic School, St. Paul Catholic School
Bishop MacDonell Catholic High School, St. James Catholic High School, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School
Fionn MacCool’s, Bennett Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC, Crabby Joe’s, Holiday Inn Geulph Hotel & Conference Centre
Montana’s Cookhouse, Guelph Chiropractic Health Centre, Shoeless Joe’s Sports Grill, Staybridge Suites.
Sammie Thake, Andy Duke, Brian Blum, SimonBlears, Sara Margaret Keltie , Lynleigh Greig, Diana Harris, Lorna Moon, Rodney Pallisters, Emily Wainwright, Frank & Kristie Hannan, Laurie Albano, Dony & Michelle Zaidi, Richard Chapman.