Instead of taking a test or turning in homework, Dana Hills High School student Maddie Keene spent part of her school morning out on the water.
Keene, 16, was onboard a Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching boat on Thursday, Feb. 2, for a class trip visual arts students took in conjunction with the upcoming Festival of Whales.
The boat ride out of Dana Point Harbor is an annual tradition intended to foster ecological curiosity in students and so they can explore different environments in their own backyard.
Some students, including Keene, took photos of the water and sea lions they saw for a class project. Other students will draw what they witnessed or artistically convey the trip in other ways.
“I think it’s really cool that our school is able to experience these types of things, especially because we live in this area,” Keene said. “I’m really grateful that we get to have this experience when there are a lot of other kids who don’t get to see the ocean in their lifetime. I just always feel super grateful.”
Keene has gone on previous whale watching excursions, but Thursday’s outing was her first time with classmates. She has previously participated in the Festival of Whales, which will happen at around the Dana Point Harbor this year from March 3-5.
“Last year, what we did is we took whales and made a logo for the Festival of Whales,” Keene said.
This school year marks the first time Keene is studying photography, though she has taken other art classes in the past.
“Being able to take pictures of the cool stuff of the area that we live in,” Keene said of what she likes about photography. “Dana Point is a very photographic area to live in.”
Visual arts instructors Jon Ginnaty, Chau Tran and Natalie Hribar-Kelly accompanied their students on the trip. Ginnaty—who teaches ceramics—said his students might translate their trip into ceramic work if possible but, if not, will still appreciate the life experience of going out in the Pacific Ocean.
“Festival of Whales will have a booth that displays some of our student artwork,” Ginnaty said. “We’re gaining inspiration to turn around and make objects we’ll present at the booth.”
Getting outside the classroom is a wonderful experience for the kids, he said.
“A lot of these kids might not have the resources to go on a boat like this,” Ginnaty said. “To offer this opportunity is once in a lifetime for some of these kids. To just take a break from the classroom and be out in the sun and out in the nature, what you see and learn out here is more important than what you can pick up in one day in class.”
Nona Reimer, an educational consultant for Dana Wharf, said the trip can be a starting point for students to get motivated about helping conserve the ocean environment for whales and other marine life.
“That’s how it started for me. I was a marine ecology student at San Clemente High School,” Reimer said. “I was coming out on this boat, learning about grey whales, and here I am 50-some years later still concerned about these whales.”
Talking to students and seeing their love of art come together with concern for the whales is exciting, Reimer said.
“Putting that together is going to be an amazing door opening for their future,” she said. “It’s so important to have this partnership where we can bring these kids out here.”
Reimer also addressed the legacy of the Festival of Whales for the community.
“It goes back 52 years now,” Reimer said. “Our company, Dana Wharf, was instrumental in the founding of that program because it was so important to educate the community about these amazing gray whales that were migrating up and down the coast.”
“Going back 52 years is just about when the ecotourism business began of bringing the public out to see the whales,” she added.
Despite the intended whale watching, students did not see whales Thursday.
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