An Innovative Collaborative Partnership Among The Celebration of the Sea Foundation, Florida Public Schools, National Parks Conservation Association, Crawford Entertainment, Ocean Imaging Studios and VTM Studios

Overview

Eco-Link™ is a revolutionary educational and environmental interactive collaborative platform designed to foster an interest and passion among students for careers in STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading/Recreation, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries, eco-tourism, hospitality, watersports and other related fields; foster environmental awareness, stewardship and advocacy; encourage children and families to become citizen scientists who connect, discuss and share their passion for animals and their respective habitats; and provide online and mobile resources to promote the real-time exchange of ideas and solutions to pressing environmental problems.

Eco-Link examines relationships between key educational and environmental concepts as they relate to South Florida ecology and sea level rise. Research topics include freshwater conservation and hydrology, waste and water as well as agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries management, endangered and invasive plants and animals, mangrove decimation and restoration, coral preservation and real-time and remote sensor data collection that foster citizen science. The educational and media components of the project feature intentional advocacy for the preservation of plants and animals in the Everglades and surrounding eco-systems, resource management and sustainability. Eco-Link provides free educational video modules to the public. Each of which has an educator’s version and related educational resources for students, teachers and parents.

The goal of Eco-Link is to provide students, teachers, parents, civic leaders and stakeholders with a robust visual inter-active medium that consciously educates and engages the public in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, visual and communication arts while at the same time promoting the critical importance of nutrition, wellness and physical activity for students and families. The visual and interactive nature of Eco-Link immerses and empowers viewers to become actively involved in their school and community through extensive expeditions that explore and celebrate the spectacular eco-systems of South Florida. Eco-Link is designed to cultivate a new generation of students who possess the knowledge and skills necessary to work and live in the 21st century global environment. These students will be proficient thinkers and problem solvers who are aware of world events, cultures and global dynamics.

Eco-Link is designed to engage educational and business collaboration to create multilingual broadcasts and video education modules, teacher lesson plans and activity guides, student workbooks and family outdoor recreational activities. The project leverages social media to facilitate and foster environmentally based discussion and journalism. Eco-Link features students, teachers, and parents from Florida Public Schools; elected officials; business and industry leaders; nutritionists, food industry specialists, physical trainers, fisherman and farmers; and prominent scientists from local universities interacting and collaborating on issues and concerns related to sea level rise, building resiliency, and Everglades preservation. An emphasis is placed on featuring outstanding females and minority STREAM professionals to serve as positive role models promoting respective career paths for students. The target audience for Eco-Link will encompass the rich ethnic diversity of South Florida featuring students ages 3-22 years old Pre-K though university.

Background and Rationale

The United States possesses the most innovative, technologically capable economy in the world, and yet its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is failing to ensure that all American students receive the skills and knowledge required for success in the 21st century work force. The STEM fields are collectively considered core technological underpinnings of an advanced society, according to both the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation. The National Commission on Mathematics and Science for the 21st Century reports that 60 percent of the new jobs in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the current workforce. The rankings from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that American students scored 17th in science achievement and 25th in math ability when ranked against 65 other countries. Only 16 percent of high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career according to the U.S. Department of Education. The U.S. was a world leader in these disciplines 25 years ago. Information compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that even though there are 12 million Americans out of work, 4 million jobs remain unfilled because applicants lack the requisite skills to be employed. Furthermore, Blacks, Hispanics and women are less likely to be in a science or engineering major at the start of their college experience and less likely to remain in these majors by its conclusion, according to researchers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, we have an epidemic of childhood obesity, which is the fastest-growing cause of disease, and death in America and the crisis associated with this national epidemic is completely preventable.  According to Dr. Richard Carmona, Surgeon General, U.S. Public Health Service, nearly two out of every three Americans are overweight or obese and one out of every eight deaths in America is caused by an illness directly related to overweight and obesity. America’s children are seeing the serious consequences of a lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating habits. Fortunately, there is still time to reverse this deadly trend in our children’s lives and begin to inspire them to delight in becoming physically active and exploring national parks and all of the other spectacular aquatic and terresterial natural beauty that surrounds them.

To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, all students need to develop their proficiencies in science, mathematics, and technology to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past. In 2006, the U.S. National Academies expressed concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States.  Its Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions federal policy makers could take to advance stem education in the nation to compete successfully in the 21st century. Their top three recommendations were to increase America’s talent pool by improving K-12 science and mathematics education; strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, math and technology; and expand the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees.

It is imperative that schools and universities provide students and teachers with the necessary skills required to produce creative and critical thinkers who possess the problem-solving abilities needed to excel in STEM careers. As the world becomes more dependent on a knowledge-based economy, we must retain, develop, and expand the American workforce to ensure that a sufficient intellectual, entrepreneurial and technical talent exists to sustain long-term economic growth in the new millennium. To address this challenge and sustain the spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship that has made the United States a world economic leader, a group of local businesses and organizations have committed to the creation of Eco-Link an innovative, environmentally-focused educational program that has been designed to impact millions of people through the power of broadcast and interactive media.

Conclusion

Our economic vitality as a nation is largely derived from the productivity of a well-trained workforce and the scientific and technical innovations they produce. As we become more immersed in the knowledge-based economy, educators and interested stakeholders must make bold and courageous investments in the intellectual capital that must be developed within children. The partnership formed among the businesses and organizations associated with Eco-Link will create a mechanism to provide a strong educational foundation for our students that will arm them with the essential skills to perform successfully in postsecondary education and in the global marketplace. These educational talents will also empower them to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, conscientious consumers, social participants and environmental advocates.