Kearny High Students Incite Global Change in Local Community

How do you encourage people to care about hard to define animals–corals–in far away places? Make a video!

By Robert Raad


In a recent collaboration with the School of Digital Media and Design (DMD) at Kearny High and Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, students are working with scientists to investigate the impacts of environmental change on coral reefs, and producing films to engage those in their community.

Spurring this project is curiosity, what can we do in our daily lives and local communities to circumnavigate climate change and its impacts on oceans’ reefs?

Though a simple question, unique challenges exist. Along with scientific research and moving media creativity, students are working to empathize with their audiences to best deliver a video that invigorates action.

Kearny High School’s DMD students are producing films that make environmental impacts, elsewhere on the globe. Yet, they are looking for solutions to the problem in their own community.

In partnership with Birch Aquarium, and scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, students have narrowed their research to very distinct aspects of coral reef science:

  • Runoff and dead zones
  • Mass coral bleaching events
  • Ocean acidification
  • Overfishing and the importance of reef fish species

Birch Aquarium aquarists Sean Bruce and Fernando Nosratpour are providing students an opportunity to learn about the role aquaria play in understanding coral biology. Here, students had a behind the scenes experience to learn about coral fragmentation and their use in captivity and by researchers in the field. Moreover, aquarist Sean had the opportunity to educate students on the importance of reef fish species for the ecological importance of a healthy coral ecosystem.

Heidi Schlageter, Kearny DMD digital arts teacher left Birch Aquarium saying, “Amazing!  The student’s intrigue and appreciation for the ocean and marine life continues to grow. 

While the aquarium and marine life contains a captivating allure, the main priority of this project is to empathize with those who are unfamiliar with marine ecosystems, with an aim to engage underserved communities in the greater San Diego area. Heidi continues, “Many students shared with me that the scientists were so friendly and nice. Talking to scientific experts was outside of their comfort zone, but they came away with a positive, empowered feeling after meeting them.”

An unexpected, albeit, welcomed outcome of this project is high school students and scientists collaborating together, as both concerned members of the community, and proponents of change globally.

Director of Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Harry Helling suggests, “Until we are able to make impacts around the world relevant, locally…we will suffer from ‘isolationism’ and nobody will be able to ‘act globally’ to protect our planet.”

Revisiting  Kearny High students’ question, “What can we do in our daily lives to help coral reefs?” can help us all realize a model to activate our collective future.