Caye Caulker Ocean Academy's Aquatic Tourism Program has been shortlisted for the prestigious Beyond Sports 2014 Awards in the category Sport for Education (sponsored by UNICEF). Beyond Sport is an international organization whose mandate is to “promote, develop and support the use of sport to drive positive social change across the world,” and these awards highlight the most innovative, standout case studies in sport and development each year. Ocean Academy's Aquatic Tourism Program was selected from 350 entries spanning 70 countries, and is one of only three projects shortlisted in the Sport for Education category.

Ocean Academy was founded in 2008 as Caye Caulker’s only high school. In addition to traditional high-school subjects, the school’s innovative Aquatic Tourism Program matches students with mentors and entrepreneurial opportunities in the tourism industry on the island, allowing them to receive financial credits as well as learn the necessary skills for working in this field after graduation. It highlights the positive impact that location-based learning can have on a student’s future employment possibilities and his or her likelihood to remain in school.

“Ocean Academy has created many opportunities for students to get involved in the tourism industry here on Caye Caulker, from conducting beach cleanups and public education campaigns to sharing local knowledge of island ecosystems with visitors on kayak excursions,” says Joni Miller, school Founder and Projects Director. “These activities not only help our students improve their communication skills, but also increase their confidence levels and professional skills.”

Sandie Betz-Eisenberg says that “as soon as my son Spenser saw the video of the Aquatic Tourism classes he exclaimed, ‘That’s where I want to go to school!’ His marine biology and especially fly fishing classes have given him the opportunity to pursue his passion for the sea and to get credit for it at the same time. Ocean Academy has been instrumental in connecting Spenser with people who can help him to follow and live his dreams. I believe that we couldn't ask for more than that, as that is what every parent wishes for their children”.

Parent Johnny Cantun Sr. recalls that "since Johnny Jr. was a little boy he has loved fishing. That’s one of the reasons I put him here at this high school. Ocean Academy has classes in fly fishing, scuba, kayak, marine biology. It’s what the island needs. Johnny loves fishing but he also wants to be an architect and he enjoys learning how to make mobile apps in computer class. Ocean Academy is the best school for me to send my son so that he learns skills that will benefit himself, his future, and also the island".

The Beyond Sport nomination is one of several success stories for Ocean Academy students. Since 2009, 36 students have certified as PADI Open Water scuba divers, 19 are advanced divers, and two alumni are Dive Masters. Six students and one administrator enrolled in a month-long night class for tour guides and community members, in 2012, to learn how to set transects and conduct surveys of invertebrates, juvenile fish, corals, commercial fish and marine mammals. They graduated as Community Reef Technicians. The Department of Youth Services awarded Ocean Academy student Kyle Requena the 2013 National Youth in Tourism Award. After graduation Kyle worked alongside his mentor to compete in an international fly-fishing tournament and he is now an assistant fly-fishing instructor with Ocean Academy.

School volunteer, Laisee Rintel, who currently works at the Michael Phelps Foundation, says, “After working seven years in the sports marketing world as a client manager of professional athletes, I decided to take a year-long break to do volunteer work abroad. I connected with Ocean Academy because of its overall philosophy, teaching methods, and tremendous potential to improve the lives of Belizean children through better education. The school's Tourism Vocational Programs empower students to become entrepreneurial leaders in their communities and country. The school is a model for others worldwide”.

Aquatic Sport opportunities for Ocean Academy students are possible thanks to partnerships with Caye Caulker tour operators who freely volunteer their time, expertise and resources to mentor local youth. Thank you to Anglers Abroad (fly-fishing), Belize Diving Services (scuba diving), KitExplorer and Dane Dingerson (windsurfing), Toucan Canoe and Kayaks (kayaking) and the Forest and Marine Reserves Association of Caye Caulker (reef and mangrove ecology). Beyond Sport joins a growing list of international sponsors of Ocean Academy’s Aquatic Tourism program. Thank you to the Embassy of the United States, Belmopan (CARSI grant, alternative livelihoods and training for youth), Kenco Outdoor Equipment Store in New York State and Jackson Kayak in Tennessee.

Ocean Academy is very proud of all students and community partners in the Aquatic Tourism Program, and honored to be ambassadors for Caye Caulker and our country of Belize on the international stage. School founders Joni Miller and Heidi Curry will represent Ocean Academy and Belize at the Beyond Sport Summit and Awards Ceremony 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa on October 28-30. Heidi Curry is an invited panel speaker on the topic of how sports can unlock the power and creativity of young people across the world.

To learn more about Ocean Academy’s innovative high-school programs call the school office at 226-0321 or send a contact-us email via the school website http://www.cayecaulkerschool.com. To read the Aquatic Tourism project entry for Beyond Sport Awards go to http://www.beyondsport.org/Awards

Below is Ocean Academy’s nomination at Beyond Sports Award:
Sport in education as a tool for youth leadership and development


- James Baderman, Facilitator - Manager, Fight For Peace International
- Heidi Curry - Founder, Managing Director, Caye Caulker Ocean Academy
- Norman Mphake - Educational Specialist, SportsTech
- Sonya Timms - Director, Magic Bus UK
- Rob Taylor - Founder, Columba Leadership

Press Release