Skip to content

September 4, 2003

For More Information, Contact:
Daryl Savage at (650) 688-6384


PALO ALTO – A Santa Cruz non-profit could directly benefit from an innovative attempt by Assembly Joe Simitian to get kids out to sea. Literally.

Simitian’s proposal for the California Outdoor Environmental Education Program (Assembly Bill 1330), which has passed both houses of the California State Legislature, would create unique opportunities for under-served children, such as the chance for them to learn basic geometry while sailing at sea.

Santa Cruz-based O’Neill Sea Odyssey is watching the Simitian bill hopefully and carefully. So carefully in fact, that its Executive Director, Dan Haifley, went to Sacramento this summer to testify before the Senate Appropriations committee urging support of the program.

“It’s a natural. To offer kids a living classroom of nature is a phenomenal opportunity. These are kids who normally would not have the chance to experience learning through the great outdoors. It’s all hands-on,” Haifley said.

It’s that hands-on appeal that Simitian is pushing. “The goal is simple. Give students an opportunity to learn the importance of ecology in protecting our natural resources. Let them sail a ship, or go backpacking in the hills. Let them understand the connection between the science of ecology and the world around them,” Simitian said.

The proposal to establish the California Outdoor Environmental Education Program marks the first time in this state that outdoor education programs will be systematically developed, privately funded, and then studied for their impact on student behavior and learning.

“The beauty of this bill is that it comes at absolutely no expense to the State,” Simitian said. The roughly quarter of a million dollars in seed funding will come from private sources.

That goal is not only simple, “the kids love it,” according to Connie Martinez, executive director of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. “We’ve been offering programs like this for several years. We’ve seen how the kids react. It works,” Martinez said.

“When you engage children in real science that has relevance within their community and a context that they can understand, it touches them and creates long lasting results. Assemblyman Simitian is on the right track with this,” she said.

Simitian’s Outdoor Environmental Educational Program anticipates four initial programs, all of which will enable students to develop an appreciation of the diversity of California’s natural environment through hands-on outdoor experiences.

The legislation will examine the impact of these programs to see which programs work and which do not.

“Although there have been similar programs before, there have never been any meaningful evaluations. Now, for the first time, we have techniques in place that will test the successes of this program, enabling them to be documented and replicated,” Simitian said.

Simitian’s outdoor education bill, which is sponsored by the Sierra Club, will be administered by the State Department of Education upon passage.