Caye Caulker Ocean Academy

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Caye Caulker Ocean Academy

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Ocean Academy opened in 2008 as the very first community high school on the island of Caye Caulker. Belize has the second-longest barrier reef in the world, and Caye Caulker's economy has shifted from traditional fishing and boat-building to aquatic sports tourism and hospitality services. Island youth needed equitable access to education, and skills and knowledge to make wise development decisions. Ocean Academy prepares students for careers relevant to island tourism and conservation science. In addition to core academics, students learn marine biology, scuba, windsurfing, kayaking, tour guiding and website design. Current apprenticeships include wedding photography, kayak tour guiding, office skills. Instead of labourer jobs such as clearing land, youth now work alongside biologists on the Mangrove Restoration Project, conduct beach cleanups and fish surveys. Eco-entrepreneurship ventures include composting and recycled art sales. Ocean Academy welcomes tourists to volunteer alongside students and environmentalists to problem-solve together.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Education: Before Ocean Academy opened in 2008, island youth faced poor educational choices after primary school: they paid expensive water taxis to study on the mainland, boarded, or many chose to quit education at age 12 and join the workforce. Available jobs for unskilled workers were often detrimental to the environment, such as machete work (chopping mangrove to clear land), sand dredging or garbage collection for open-pit burning. Nation-wide, only 40% of secondary-aged youth are enrolled in school. An additional problem is a lack of Belizean scientists and researchers, of well-equipped field schools and labs, and of green jobs. Tourism and Environment: The Government of Belize is promoting large-scale mass tourism such as cruise ships. Caye Caulker conservationists and tour operators are trying to maintain the island’s scaled-down "go slow" eco-approach to tourism. The island and country lack infrastructure and monitoring to deal with mass tourism. This large increase in visitors, coupled with increased coastal development and concomitant removal of mangroves and clearing of littoral forests are having a significant negative impact on the coral reef.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Ocean Academy is the first community non-profit high school on the island of Caye Caulker. Belize is a small country of 300,000, Caye Caulker is a small island of 1700, and Ocean Academy is a small school of 58. We face many big environmental and social issues. Ocean Academy's approach to education and conservation is particularly innovative in the context of Belize. Ocean Academy offers site-based enrichment classes relevant to coastal lifestyle and local tourism careers, such as marine biology, scuba and kayak, tour guiding and entrepreneurship. Historically, Belizean education focuses on rote learning and standardized exam preparation. Our teachers engage students with an experiential learning approach, and an emphasis on real-life problem solving. Students volunteer with mangrove restoration and composting projects, and research waste-management solutions in Science class to present to Village Council. The Belize Reef, 2nd-longest in the world, is our living science lab. Youth engagement is key in a country where only 40% of secondary-aged youth are enrolled in school, and Ocean Academy is committed to equitable access to education. We enrol marginalized youth as well as Valedictorians, and offer differentiated learning to engage all. Student tuition is subsidized with scholarships, donations, work studies as well as barter. Volunteers and service-learning groups work alongside island youth on conservation projects, and share their professional skills as guest lecturers and tutors. They gain insight into the realities of island life beyond the glitz of Front Street’s tour shops. We hope that our school’s focus on environmental education and creative problem-solving skills will ultimately be incorporated into graduates’ world view and actions as future decision makers of Belize. Our school motto is “Preserving Our Heritage, Creating Our Future”.
About You
Caye Caulker Ocean Academy: A Non-profit community high school
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Caye Caulker Ocean Academy: A Non-profit community high school

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Caye Caulker Ocean Academy: A Non-profit community high school

Organization Phone


Organization Address

c/o Caye Caulker Post Office, Caye Caulker, Belize, Central America

Organization Country

, BZ

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, BZ

Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?


Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

Clients/Students: Many of our students are the first in their families to attend secondary school, and many are the first to be literate. Ocean Academy provides a more equitable access to education through programs like apprenticeships, work studies and barter for tuition. We engage youth who previously were excluded from educational opportunities, and empower them to be leaders and decision-makers in island tourism and development issues instead of being unskilled employees. Students gain real-life conservation skills working alongside marine biologists and environmental activists. The first class of Ocean Academy graduates will be June 2011.

Tourism Sector: Voluntourists are increasingly choosing Caye Caulker as their destination, in order to contribute to Ocean Academy's vision. Tourists better relate to local issues through their connection with the island youth, and are engaged in the problem-solving process. This is evidenced by donations such as $10,000 tied to a waste management student-led research project; $250 to conduct beach cleanups; purchases of recycled shopping bags sold by the school Interact Club; volunteers organizing a composting project initiative, and by volunteers choosing to support Ocean Academy’s short list of hotels and tour operators that donate back to education and conservation.


Engaging Academics
•Tour guiding elective with field trips
•Aquatic tourism PE – Scuba, windsurf, kayak, swimming
•Marine Biology and Mangrove Restoration Project
•English communication skills (most students speak Kriol or Spanish at home)
•Daily Computers and website design
•Emphasis on experiential education and using the reef as our living Science lab.

Entrepreneurship Initiatives for island problems
•Composting Project
•Waste management research project to present viable alternatives to Village Council
•Eco-art out of plastic bottles collected on the beach
•Shop Green bags for shopping, made out of recycled sugar, rice and flour bags

Apprenticeships and work studies
•3 students in marine biology; 1 in kayak tours; 4 in composting; 1 for wedding photography; 1 in office administration; 1 as librarian; 5 in construction


•Ocean Academy will recognize our first class of high school graduates in June 2011
•National Youth For the Future Award for Environmentalism (2009)
•Aquatic Tourism PE: 5 students certified as PADI Open Water divers (2009-2010) and 9 students enrolled 2010-2011
•Equitable Access to Education I: Primary-school Valedictorians from 2008, 2009 and 2010 all chose to enroll in Ocean Academy; marginalized youth who did not pass exit exams or who had little financial support were also welcomed and provided special academic supports
•Equitable Access to Education II: 82% of our students are on partial or full tuition scholarships
•Community Support: Local business scholarships (22 in June 2010) rewarded excellence in a variety of skills relevant to tourism, science and environmental activism: Conservation, Tourism Skills, Communication, Aquatics, Science, Community Involvement, Visionary Thinker are some of the awards
•English skills to improve communication with tourists: Grant from International Reading Association to publish anthology of student memoirs and poetry (2010-2011)
•Voluntourists: 200+ have assisted Ocean Academy thus far

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

2010: Like many non-profits, sustainable funding is crucial for our continued success over the next three years (see below). Our current focus is on campus expansion. Since opening three years ago our student body has doubled, and we have won a matching-funds grant to build new classrooms. With additional funding, we would like to build volunteer housing near the school.

2011: We want to expand our current school business ventures (composting, Shop Green reusable bags, Eco-Art plastics), and create profitable and sustainable eco-businesses that contribute to the school's overall financial sustainability, and to students' skill sets.

2012: Establish Ocean Academy ‘s Science Department as a fully-equipped Marine Research Station and welcome scientists, field schools and service-learning groups to Caye Caulker to tackle environmental issues onsite.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

1) Lack of sustainable funding for school's operating budget. Our first two years as a school, the co-founders worked full-time for no salary and invested their own resources and funds to pay Belizean staff. This year the Ministry of Education is funding one teacher salary and 22 student subsidies, leaving the co-founders to fund the remaining five teachers and Principal salaries and operating costs through student tuitions, grants and donors.

2) Community resistance and lack of support for unconventional programming (in the Belizean context), such as experiential education, gym class 2-3 times a week, or inclusion of marginalized and academically challenged children in school.

3) Lack of student interest and participation. Student engagement is at the core of our programming and mission.

4) Disasters such as hurricane or oil spill would damage the reef and thus the tourism industry on the island, and wipe out all progress made thus far with the mangrove restoration project, composting, beach cleanups etc

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, BZ

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Belize Ministry of Education

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Local community: Ocean Academy is a community school and thus community support is critical to success. Local businesses donate student tuition scholarships and facilitate apprenticeship placements. Our Board of Governors is comprised of parents, teachers, business owners, born-and-raised islanders, and politicians.

Government: Caye Caulker Village Council is tremendously supportive and a great partner. They coordinate scholarships for students, funded a grant for a composting project, and create small jobs for students in need. Our Area Representative offers an annual donation, and is politically supportive. Ocean Academy works in partnership with the Belize Ministry of Education on curriculum as well as funding, and they are important partners for pedagogy and financial sustainability.

NGOs: Ocean Academy students volunteer with The Forest and Marine Reserves of Caye Caulker (FAMRACC) and the CCBTIA Nature Reserve.

International: Rotary is a major partner through the Belize Literacy Project and the Interact Club of Ocean Academy. We work with Peacework, and a variety of University service-learning groups.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

1. Funding - staff salaries and operating budget

2. Funding - student tuition scholarships to increase accessibility to secondary education for all students, regardless of family financial situation

3. International marketing of Ocean Academy– more regular scheduling of voluntours by organized groups (church, school, Rotary) and a concerted fundraising effort to equip a world-class marine biology research station to attract University researchers and field schools to Caye Caulker.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

We are 3 co-founders- Heidi Curry, Joni Miller and Dane Dingerson - and each had a defining moment that brought us together to start Ocean Academy.

Heidi: Heidi was motivated to start an island school because her Belizean god-daughter, like all island children, was facing poor choices after primary school (pay expensive water taxi fares and commute daily to dangerous Belize City; board on the mainland; quit school at age 12). Heidi's passion is equitable access to education for all.

Prior to starting Ocean Academy Heidi worked as a dive instructor on the island. A young Belizean told Heidi that she wanted to be a marine biologist one day but had never even been to the local reef. Heidi knew Ocean Academy needed to provide the same aquatic opportunities for island children that tourists enjoyed every day.

Joni: Prior to Ocean Academy Joni was a high-school teacher on Vancouver Island, Canada but also a frequent visitor to Caye Caulker over 10 years. Belizean parents knew Joni was an educator and kept asking her to help them start a school, and after an illness in 2005, Joni was sparked to change her life's direction and make the move. Joni's passion is creating a culture of student volunteerism and environmental activism, and facilitating cross-cultural interactions between students and voluntourists.

Dane: Long-time American resident of Caye Caulker and real estate developer, Dane also manages the South Point Nature Reserve. He donated the land and building for Ocean Academy. Dane's passion is an island education for island kids with an emphasis on aquatic tourism sports.

On a day in 2008 when Heidi and Joni raced around the Village and gathered 250+ signatures of support for Ocean Academy, it was a defining moment for the community and really showed their collective desire for an islander education.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Heidi Curry. Managing Director and Co-Founder.
• Graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Humanities: Latin American Policy; Spanish; and Business.
• 5 years as a consultant to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, DC, USA (1999-2004). Manager of 15+ staff and subcontractors and Project Manager for the U.S. federal government with annual budgets up to $250,000USD.
• Educational Trainer for staff in USA, Brazil and China
• Managed government-audited consulting teams at ICF International
• Started businesses from the ground up in USA (two) and Belize (two)
• American with Belizean citizenship; two daughters who will be educated on the island.

Joni Miller. Projects Director and Co-Founder
• Masters in International Education from the University of Alberta, Canada (2005)
• 10 years high-school teaching experience in British Columbia, Canada: Spanish, Global Studies, Chair of Modern Languages Department; trained student teachers
• Lecturer in sustainable development at Galen University, Belize
• Leader of Canadian student volunteer groups throughout Latin America (9 years)
• Contributing researcher for Moon Handbook Belize 8th edition
• Canadian with Belizean residency.

Dane Dingerson. Business Manager and Co-Founder
• Donated the land for the school, managed and financed the construction.
• CEO of Eden Isle Inc., Caye Caulker Real Estate
• Director of the Caye Caulker Conservancy, and manages the South Point Nature Reserve.
• American Resident of Caye Caulker for 20+ years.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Web Search (e.g., Google or Yahoo)

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer

MIF Opportunity 2010
Has your organization been legally constituted or registered in your country or one of your target countries for at least three years?


Does the applicant organization have sufficient financial resources to guarantee the co-financing required by MIF during the execution period of the project? (This amounts to at least 50% of the project’s total budget with 25% in cash and 25% in-kind.)


Does the applicant organization have experience managing projects co-financed by international organizations? Please describe below

Belize Natural Energy Trust is co-financing Ocean Academy's classroom expansion project (2010 - $27,500usd).

Rotary and Interact Clubs in Alberta, Canada co-financed construction of Ocean Academy's computer lab and contributed volunteer labor(2009 - $4000cdn).

International Reading Association granted Ocean Academy $2500usd to publish an Anthology of student memoirs, poetry and stories (2010)

Please classify the applicant organization according to the options below

Training and Academic Institution

What problem-area does your project address?

Access to knowledge and training.

How will your project address this problem?

1. Aquatic Careers in Tourism (ACT)
•Marine biology instruction, with a focus on environmental activism, field trips and problem-solving pedagogy
•Scientific diving and underwater specimen sampling training and certification
•Scientific writing and research skills
•PADI Scuba, Kayak, Windsurf, Sailing, Kite-boarding, Sport Fishing instruction
•Mentorship and apprenticeship placements in aquatic adventure tour shops and hospitality businesses
•Creation of quality marine biology library collection and lab facility

2. World of Work (WOW): School to Business Training
a) Communication skills
•Resume creation, website text creation, report writing, press releases
•English and tourism (spoken and written English skills)
•Job interview skills
•Public presentation skills
•I.T. communications: emails, marketing tools, social networking

2b) Basic finance skills
•Personal budgeting
•Basic business accounting
•Loans and credit cards

2c) Entrepreneurship training with emphasis on eco-businesses (current focus is innovative uses for plastic bags and bottle shore trash) and green jobs

3. Street onwards to School (SOS) Bridge Program
•Emphasis on environmental and community volunteerism to re-engage youth in their community and positive contributions
•Drug and Alcohol counseling
•Work Study placements and tuition assistance
•Tutoring and differentiated learning; academic-confidence building

4. Environmental Education Workshop Series
•Public slide shows, lectures or walking tours with environmental themes
•Target audiences include Environmental Club, island students, community members, and tourists who would be interested in an alternative leisure activity.

Who is benefited by the initiative? (Please highlight the type and number of beneficiaries, and their role in the tourism value-chain.)

Caye Caulker’s future business owners, home builders/developers, professionals, and environmental activists currently number:

58 high-school students are currently enrolled in Ocean Academy.
40+ children who attend Caye Caulker Environmental Club activities
300+ children enrolled in Caye Caulker Roman Catholic Primary School

The Environmental Education Workshop Series would be open to the general public (a mix of students, 1300 adult community members and fluctuating numbers of tourists depending on the season).

How will the project's results assist the region’s tourism sector and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises?

Project: Training and skills development in aquatic tourism and sustainable development for Caye Caulker island youth enrolled at Ocean Academy. Re-engagement of marginalized youth in the education system and work force.

Benefits: Ocean Academy students will directly benefit from training in Marine biology, scientific method, communications, entrepreneurship, aquatic tourism sports. Marginalized youth will be re-engaged in their community and gain skills for a better future. Students will all develop skills and attitudes to become island leaders and decision makers. Local businesses (hotels, dive shops, restaurants) who mentor students will benefit from a skilled workforce pool. The island environment benefits since students will be able to get (or create) green jobs instead of low-skilled labor such as machete chop or dredging, that often destroys the environment.

Project: Develop Ocean Academy's site facilities into a world-class Marine Field Station and attract researchers, University field schools and voluntourists, who will in turn contribute to local conservation and efforts while also supporting the island's hospitality and aquatics industries.

Benefits: Visiting scientists and University field school instructors will contribute to island education and tourism by offering community workshops and lectures. Ocean Academy high-school students, primary-school children, Environmental club members, community members and tourists who attend will all benefit.

A. Total Budget (100%)


B. MIF Contribution (up to 50% of total budget and US$. 500.000 max)


C. Cash co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)


D. In kind co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)