By Valerie Gaynor
Katherine O’Fallon, the Marine Science Magnet Coordinator at New River Middle School (NRMS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has been sharing her passion for marine science and education since she began her teaching career in 2006. As a marine biologist working in the field, she discovered that her passion was not in research but in sharing her knowledge with future generations. She learned early on in her career that her greatest joy came from watching children discover their passion for marine science and sharing it with others. As a classroom teacher, her students were inspired by her passion and knowledge. When Katie became the Magnet Coordinator almost nine years ago, she was able to have a larger impact in the school and the community. The partnerships she has cultivated — such as with Dr. Guy Harvey, who designed the school’s logo — have strengthened relationships, school exposure and, more importantly, opportunities for their students in the marine field and industry in South Florida.
Katie’s goal is to inspire her students to get involved in their own backyard, learn about the marine environment and then get even more involved. By exposing NRMS students to the marine and environmental issues in their classroom, it fosters stewardship and encourages students to be proactive in preserving and protecting our local habitats. Her school encourages involvement in the community with their annual International Coastal Cleanup and BBQ, along with Marine Industries Waterway Cleanup. As magnet coordinator, Katie also organized a variety of field experiences to help students experience the marine environment through snorkeling trips in Fort Lauderdale and the Keys, kayaking through the mangroves, canoeing at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, trips to Miami Seaquarium, state park educational activities, and visits to Fort Lauderdale Boat Show and Resolve Marine Academy.
Every year, Katie also encourages her students to participate in the Plywood Regatta, where teams build and race boats with the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. Because of Katie, the NRMS has received the Magnet School of Distinction for five years, along with becoming a Nationally Certified Magnet School. Katie has also been instrumental in NRMS being recognized as the Broward County P3 (Preserving our Planet for Posterity) Eco-Challenge over the past six years. She works tirelessly writing grants and finding resources so that more of her students can have the opportunities to get out into the marine environment and be involved in the ever-growing world of science engineering. That includes the very popular Marine ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicles) course, along with new opportunities that include robotics, entrepreneurship and engineering and design.
Katie wants her students to be exposed to all facets of the marine field, from the environmental and biological to the maritime and engineering side of the yachting industry. She prepares her students for their future, pushing them to pursue their passion and inspirations. No matter where their future takes them, NRMS students have a deep passion and appreciation for their backyard of South Florida and continue to help preserve and protect it because of what they learned from Katie and New River Middle School Marine Science Magnet.