Brooklyn, NY — On June 8th, World Ocean Day, The New York Aquarium at Coney Island and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) will salute local middle school students who participated in Aza’s Quest, a new pilot program created to teach conservation education and environmental advocacy. Aza’s Quest is an informal education program aimed at teaching and empowering kids to understand and take action on local conservation issues. It provides students with a unique educational training process followed by access to experts and partners, developing real solutions to real issues.
This spring, 150 students from Tri-State area schools participated in the pilot program, which was facilitated by educators from local AZA accredited zoos and aquariums, including the New York Aquarium, Philadelphia Zoo and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. Aza’s Quest is an evolution in the time-tested tactic of using role-playing games as an educational tool. In this program 4th & 5th grade students studied various real and hypothetical conservation dilemmas, ultimately focusing on a real-life conservation dilemma in their local biome.
Students are drawn into the content through specifically designed role playing and then have the opportunity to engage with experts at adult institutions, receiving answers to their questions that "cut through the hype" surrounding major conservation issues. Students can compare their answers with those of the experts who wrestle with these same issues every day, and they can take meaningful actions to make a difference.
The wildlife conservation experts at AZA believe that we have the potential to solve the serious environmental problems we face by getting people to care about wild animals. "Aza’s Quest engages kids in real-world environmental problem-solving," said New York Aquarium Director Dr. Paul Boyle. "The program really gets kids thinking about how we affect our environment and how individual choices make a real different. Kids are the future stewards of our ocean. Aza’s Quest is a powerful, new tool to help prepare them to act wisely on behalf of our ocean and ocean wildlife."
The World Ocean Day celebration is a part of AZA’s national campaign, Wonders of Water, which was launched in April. Wonders of Water is a public education campaign to help families learn about and conserve water and the animals that depend on it. Throughout the year, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums will engage families in fun and educational, water-themed programs that include art projects, storytelling, stream or beach clean-ups, zoo keeper chats and scavenger hunts. Many are hosting World Ocean Day events this week, too.
The AZA developed Wonders of Water in response to public concern about the compromised conditions of the world’s drinking water, oceans, lakes, rivers and reservoirs. A 2004 national Gallup Poll found that water-related issues topped the list of Americans’ environmental concerns and was perceived as a more pressing issue than global warming, air pollution or acid rain. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy delivered its final report in Sept. 2004, which affirmed that our country’s oceans are imperiled by pollution, disjointed government protection and oversight, and lack of public education. The report also emphasized the key role of aquariums to help people learn more about the ocean, thus increasing their ocean literacy.
"AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums are leaders in conservation and educating the public about wildlife issues. Aza’s Quest pairs classroom teaching with real-life situations and the students become the scientists, researchers and problem solvers," said Sydney J. Butler, executive director of AZA. "Engaging children at this level fits squarely with our mission. We hope that they not only have learned what it takes to identify an environmental problem but also gained some valuable skills to further their passion to help protect the ocean and waters on our planet."
Local business and philanthropic leaders including former CBS President, Arthur Taylor and Laurence Gerschel, Executive Director of the Laurent and Alberta Gerschel Foundation, will be on hand along with executives from AZA and the New York Aquarium to honor the students. They will be joined by "Aza," the AZA’s new character and ambassador to children and families. Aza serves as a guide to the natural world and helps people understand the unique leadership role AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums play in helping protect wildlife and wild places.
Aza’s Quest was funded by grants from the Laurent and Alberta Gerschel Foundation and the Nature Issues Foundation. The program will be expanded nationwide as part of AZA’s ongoing Wonders of Water campaign through 2006. To learn more about Aza’s Quest, Wonders of Water and how people can help conserve water and the animals that depend on it, visit www.AzasWeb.com.
About the AZA
Founded in 1924, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) envisions a world where all people respect, value and conserve animals and nature. AZA currently has 211 accredited members in the U.S., Canada, Bermuda and Hong Kong. Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. AZA is a leader in global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their native habitats’. www.aza.org
World Ocean Day Celebration Salutes New York Area Students