Meet the Visionary Educators Behind the “Plastic Ocean” Classroom Experience Guide

Sep 23, 2023 | Classroom Activities, Community News, Educator Spotlight, Insight

Wayfinder Society is for environmental educators who believe in the power of collective action. It is an online platform hosting a robust offering of classroom and teaching resources that makes it easy for educators to create a fun, dynamic, and engaging classroom and to inspire their students through environmental awareness and action. This month, we are highlighting a special group of educators who helped us created an Experience Guide long in the making.

Plastic Ocean book with waves behind it

This summer, we invited educators to help us create classroom lessons inspired by our keystone book, “Plastic Ocean”, written by Cassandra Phillips and our founder Captain Charles Moore. Together, we co-created a total of 8 standards-aligned lessons made by educators for educators. “Plastic Ocean” delves into Captain Moore’s work through the decades, including when he first stumbled upon a great plastic soup a thousand miles from shore in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (commonly known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch) in 1997 and the many years of expeditions that followed on his research vessel, ORV Alguita. His subsequent work propelled a deep shift in society’s understanding of plastic and its pervasive presence in our ocean.

“Plastic Ocean” delves into Captain Moore’s work through the decades, including when he first stumbled upon a great plastic soup a thousand miles from shore in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (commonly known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch) in 1997 and the many years of expeditions that followed on his research vessel, ORV Alguita. His subsequent work propelled a deep shift in society’s understanding of plastic and its pervasive presence in our ocean. “Plastic Ocean” follows the historical journey of Capt. Moore and our nonprofit, Algalita Marine Research and Education, and provides an in-depth look into the early days of our world grappling with this foreign material that has arguably become the leading material of our age. As one of the main drivers of plastic pollution awareness, Captain Moore reminds us that an ocean free of plastic waste is of utmost importance to the survival of all species. This iconic book provided our group of educators with ample points of connection to their academic curriculum, from English Language Studies skills of literature review and debate to scientific investigations of natural phenomena, and social science’s focus on history and global culture and economics. The incredible dedication of these educators is clear in the outcome of this project, and we hope you are just as excited as we are to bring these topics to more students across the US and into schools throughout the world. Click here to register for our virtual event that introduces The “Plastic Ocean” Experience Guide on Wednesday, September 26th from 4-5PM PT. We are so grateful to each educator who joined us on this journey during their much-deserved summer break. We are filled with gratitude for their dedication to educating the next generation about this complex issue and for their help memorializing this important book! Learn more about the team of educators who contributed to The Plastic Ocean Classroom Experience Guide below. 

Plastic Ocean book with waves behind it

Ashley Contreras

Ashley has been teaching middle school for 10 years and previously taught marine biology as an outdoor educator. She works at Haskell STEM Academy in Cerritos, California teaching seventh grade science and an elective course called Environmental Science and Engineering. Her favorite thing about teaching environmental education is providing students with the opportunity to learn about real world environmental issues that allow them to collaborate in developing potential solutions for these complex problems. Ashley first learned about Algalita when she was in college. She worked at a restaurant next door to the Algalita office in Alamitos Bay. Inspired by Algalita’s efforts, she began sorting samples of plastic from the North Pacific Gyre at Algalita’s lab in Redondo Beach. She participated in many outreach events and now serves on the Board of Directors. Ashley is excited to incorporate Wayfinder Society’s Student Hub into this next school year, a resource she is certain will provide her students with more opportunities to have a choice in the activities they want to participate in based on their personal interests. Her favorite education quote is “’In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum. 

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Ashley Sarvis

Ashley has been an educator for 7 years and is currently teaching 5th grade in Huron, South Dakota with a specialization in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners. Her favorite thing about teaching environmental education is watching children become passionate about the environment and seeing them get inspired to be advocates themselves. Ashley first heard about Algalita when researching ways to reduce plastic waste and she continued to follow Algalita’s work to help guide her in her efforts in and outside of the classroom. Living in the upper Midwest, Ashley has experienced the common misconception that the ocean pollution is not a concern in this area of the United States. She is teaching the next generation that the ocean is downhill from everyone – making the issue of plastic pollution everyone’s problem – even for landlocked states, like South Dakota. A quote that inspires her is “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela 

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Clinton Ikechukwu Ezeigwe

Clinton is an environmental justice educator in Nigeria who initiated the Preventing Marine Plastic Pollution in Nigeria (PREMPPiN)) project that is focused on using education to tackle plastic pollution, while empowering the community to live more healthy, sustainable lives. He also runs an after-school program for secondary school students designed to educate about the harm of plastic pollution in their streets and on their coastline. You can learn more about Clinton’s work here. 

Educator Headshot

Dori Hess

Dori is an adjunct professor at Stark State College and a high school teacher. She is a lifelong learner who believes that the best way to be a good educator is to always be a student yourself and learn from the amazing world around us!  She is motivated to make a difference in the lives of everyone she knows and within her community.  

Educator Headshot

Julie Keck-Centeno, Ed.D.

Julie Keck-Centeno is a middle school science teacher at Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA. She began her career as an elementary school teacher in Long Beach, CA. While getting her doctorate in Educational Administration at the University of California Irvine, Julie taught multicultural education classes to undergraduate students interested in a teaching career. After earning her degree, she has taught middle school science at Whitney High School since 2018. A quote that inspires her is by Ivan Welton Fitzwater, “The future of the world is in my classroom today”.

Plastic Ocean book with waves behind it

Neil Leonard

With over a decade of teaching under his belt, Neil Leonard currently teaches science at Manhattan Beach Unified School District (MBUSD). As an avid surfer since age 13, Neil has a deep affinity for the ocean and its inhabitants. His love of the ocean has led him to surf on 4 continents (and counting!). In 2023, he was honored to be recognized as the Teacher of the Year for MBUSD for his dedication to quality education inside and outside of the classroom. Neil currently runs a Surfrider Foundation chapter in his community that brings opportunities for his students to protect and conserve their coastline. When not in the classroom, you can usually catch him surfing, organizing beach clean ups, or coaching volleyball at his school. 

Plastic Ocean book with waves behind it

Sarah King

Sarah has been an educator for over 25 years and currently teaches English exclusively at UCONN as an adjunct instructor. As a humanities and literary-focused teacher, she has always had a passion for cross-curricular projects and is interested in opportunities to engage her students in current and relevant topics that are intended to inspire their own writing. Her love of the outdoors began as a young child in a family of outdoor enthusiasts, but this interest grew even more after visiting Iceland in 2022 with her husband. This trip which provided significant information about the melting glaciers in the Arctic over the past century encouraged her to become more actively involved in conservation efforts with particular emphasis on the commitment to intentionally change our habits with single-use plastics. Upon returning from this trip, Sarah researched and found online articles and the TED talk by Captain Moore which she eagerly shared with her students and added Captain Moore’s book, Plastic Ocean, to her curriculum. When the opportunity arose to help co-create lessons inspired by the book, she jumped at the chance! Her favorite quote is from author Madeleine L’Engle, “Only when we take ourselves lightly can we take ourselves seriously, so that we are given the courage to say, “Yes! I dare disturb the universe.”