ORLANDO, Fla. - Back-to-school plans have focused entirely on academics and classrooms. But extracurriculars seem to have been dropped from all agendas. So, Seaworld Orlando is trying to fill some of that void by bringing activities and entertainment to the school day.
The pandemic lockdown may have shut the front doors of the theme park for several months, but as Jon Peterson, the Vice President of Zoological Operations will remind you: “we didn’t stop our education.”
In fact, education has been as important to SeaWorld as Shamu and rollercoasters have been. Prior to COVID-19, the theme park was one of the largest camp providers in Central Florida, even offering sleepovers in the park as well as in-school outreach.
But the lockdown forced the park to pivot. They dove headfirst into the virtual world. Peterson explained that "we turned around and opened our classrooms up online, but still being fun and enjoyable. So during the COVID closures, our education teams had programs out for 9 weeks of the curriculum so that a lot of people could learn not only about these animals but also about what they can do to help the environment and grow to be stewards of the marine world and animal world. We went around on Instagram and did a lot of real up-close touch with octopuses and sharks and baby dolphins and manatees and rescues and releases."
SeaWorld quickly found out that their fans went beyond elementary kids. High school and college students were also signing on. And then came adults. Peterson told FOX 35 that "my wife herself went to it and used it with my children."
Live streams, interactive Q&A with specialists on video calls, behind the scenes clips, games, and entertainment are all at a students’ fingertips for free. And while school groups are slowly making their physical way back to the park, SeaWorld says it has pledged to grow the virtual program for the fall semester.
"We have five baby manatees sitting in this pool. Three of then showed up during our COVID time. Two of them showed up since reopening. We have done 26 manatee rescues since COVID started. We’ve returned 13. We have a total of 68 animals that came in during our closure. I say all of this because the one thing that COVID did not stop, and could not touch, is our mission and our passion to care for animals in need. And that’s exactly what my teams do. And this is why our mission to continue to educate our children and help with the virtual learning is sea world’s priorities,” Peterson said.
All of the virtual content is free. If you would like more information on how to access it, visit the “at home” section on SeaWorld.com.
Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the rest of the FOX 35 Classroom Survival Guide as schools prepare to reopen.