R&R

Camp Snapshot

SEACAMP San Diego

San Diego, Calif.

$675 (SEACAMP I), $850 (SEACAMP II)

Ages: 7th-12th grades

One minute you’re tearing up the surf on a boogie board at La Jolla Shores, just north of San Diego. The next you’re pounding through the waves in a kayak. Then you’re snorkeling in clear, blue ocean off a dive boat…

Sounds like fun and games, but at SEACAMP San Diego they take learning seriously, and every fun-filled activity is an opportunity to teach.

The diversions are merely that, as the paramount paradigm of SEACAMP San Diego is education. Divided into two summer sessions, plus school year programs where school groups are invited to participate, this camp is for kids who are serious about marine sciences.

“We get kids who decide to come to an educational program during the summer, and 95 percent are interested in pursuing a career in marine biology,” says camp director Phil Zerofski. “Whether it’s someone who wants to work with whales and dolphins — what you usually get — or someone who wants to be a marine veterinarian or researcher. We tend to have a great group of students because they’re deciding to come to an educational program during their vacation.”

What’s also interesting is the geographical mix of 7th-12th graders who attend the camp — most are landlocked. They come from cities like Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas, and many have never seen an ocean, much lest plumbed its depths in a wetsuit.

From Sea World to SEACAMP

SEACAMP began about 14 years ago when Sea World’s marine mammal director, Mike Yeakle, wanted to create more of a classroom environment.

Though he was creating a kids’ camp there was no doubt that SEACAMP’s focus would be more geared toward an interactive classroom experience that you just can’t get in your typical biology lab.

After 10 years of running the camp, Mike found another job and planned to close it down. That’s when Zerofski, who has been running SEACAMP’s program for seven years now, stepped in and bought the goodwill client list and the SEACAMP name.

“I said, ‘We have a program where we’re getting letters back from kids that this has been the best time of their life,’” recalls Zerofski about his motivation to keep the camp running.

So a deal was sealed and SEACAMP Enterprises became SEACAMP San Diego. What Zerofski soon found were the many headaches caused by the niggling details of actually running a camp — insurance, general accounting and budgets.

“The programming comes very easily for me; it’s a great program,” says Zerofski. “But I came in with a biology background and knew nothing of the business aspect.”

Zerofski quickly utilized his resources — the accountant and insurance company that were already in place, other camp directors, plus a myriad of ocean safety experts who observed the program to see if there was anything about SEACAMP’s water activities that were unsafe.

Fortunately, these experts gave the green light and an organizational foundation was laid for this new era in SEACAMP’s history.

What also helped ease the transition was SEACAMP’s reliance on professional staff. All of them have degrees in either marine sciences or education and some even have a Masters or are working on their Masters. Add to that an intensive hiring and training process and SEACAMP had the necessary tools to provide a top-notch educational program.

“The success of our program is the staff; they all love to work with kids and enjoy what they’re doing. No one gets paid enough to do this for any other reason,” jokes Zerofski.

SEACAMP currently has 16 full-time staffers and is now in the process of hiring six new people whose priorities must be kids and safety, beyond the professional degree requirements. Once hired, a background check will be run by the insurance company to ensure worry-free staffing.

“We do the background check after we hire because it’s expensive to run one and there are only certain things you can ask in the interview,” says Zerofski.

Another important aspect that Zerofski is intent on is keeping the price of each session as low as possible so that the program does not become exclusive, especially given that most campers are flying to San Diego to attend. SEACAMP also offers scholarships to low-income kids who show promise in the classroom.

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