New Summer Camp Teaches Not Just Environmentalism, But Advocacy

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education , Environment , Waterways

OPAK held a “Plankton and Plastics” program at the Orleans-based Partnership School of Cape Cod last year. COURTESY PHOTO

HARWICH A fledgling day camp for kids, to be based at the old Harwich Middle School this summer, goes beyond activities that teach appreciation for the earth. The new Ocean Protection Advocacy Kids (OPAK) summer program, aimed at kids between 10 and 12, uses a mix of science and the arts to teach environmental advocacy.

The innovative program is a first for OPAK, a new nonprofit group that aims to inspire young people with a love of marine science and a desire to protect the world's oceans.

Lots of good summer camp programs teach about environmentalism, “but few teach you what to do with what you've learned,” organizer Jeffrey Morgan said. A unit about whales will include some ordinary instruction backed up by a whale watch tour, a talk by an expert on protecting marine mammals, “and then we'll come back to the classroom and make a mural of a whale using ocean plastics,” he said. The goal with each of the units is to underscore the human connection to the marine world, Morgan said.

OPAK was founded by Melanie Colby, who is the organization's curriculum director.

“She started OPAK, actually, when she was 11, as a student magazine,” Morgan said. She and a friend saw trash washing up on the banks of a river near their New Jersey home, and they decided to spread the word about the pollution and the need to clean it up. Though the magazine remained a home-grown operation, years later it gave rise to a discussion with Morgan about a new marine science nonprofit group. The two met each other while working on the tall ship Clearwater, the replica Hudson River sloop commissioned by folk musician and environmentalist Pete Seeger as a means of spreading the word about the need for clean waterways.

Not surprisingly, music is one of the cornerstones of the Clearwater's program. Colby, who was majoring in music education at the time, was drawn to the idea of using the arts to inspire young people about the plight of the world's oceans. She and Morgan, a Boston University marine science student, decided to revive OPAK as a nonprofit educational group.

Each week of the group's four-week summer program focuses on a different topic. The first week, which starts July 17, includes activities about water quality and plankton, with field trips to the Harwich Shellfish Lab and to Pleasant Bay, coupled with a unique watercolor painting project that uses salt water for a unique effect. Week Two starts July 24 and highlights estuaries and crustaceans, with fun field trips and a creative writing project. The following week focuses on seals, whales and sharks, and includes a whale watch trip and a seal walk, with guest presentations by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, the Center for Coastal Studies and the National Marine Life Center. The summer camp's final week, starting Aug. 7, focuses on marine debris and clean energy, with lessons about microplastics and recycling. Participants will also have the chance to write, perform and record their own original song that promotes ocean advocacy.

Tuition is $335 for each week of the program, with a $30 surcharge during Week Three to cover the cost of the whale watch trip. Some financial assistance is available, Morgan said. For information, visit www.OPAKedu.org.