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Teaching about ocean history, preservation a decades-long mission for Pacifica educator

Jefferson Award Winner: Sheila Gamble-Dorn
Jefferson Award Winner: Sheila Gamble-Dorn 03:52

A Pacifica woman is being recognized for leading an annual ocean education program at a coastal school for over 30 years.

Sheila Gamble-Dorn recently walked down the hallway at Ocean Shore School, admiring a cardboard plesiosaurus skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

"The imagination that they come up with is always astounding. I love it!" she said.

The halls feel like magic during an intensive two-week program called Oceans 411 that brings the oceans to life for the entire K-8 campus.

Gamble-Dorn has helped organize and fundraise for Oceans 411 for over three decades as an artist and third-grade teacher. She co-led the program with for many years with teacher Virginia Szczepanic whose science knowledge enhanced the curriculum.

sheila-gamble-dorn-jefferson-awards-050824.jpg
Sheila Gamble-Dorn. CBS

Now retired, Gamble-Dorn still volunteers coordinating with faculty and parents to make the annual topic as real as possible for students.

This year's theme: Prehistoric Seas.

"This is their world, it's not just a couple of bulletin boards," she said. "They are immersed in prehistoric seas."

In one hallway, streamers and strips of plastic from water bottles hang from the ceiling to illustrate jellyfish. Paper mâché turtles fill one wall; a cluster of clams made from paper plates fills a corner.

Each year, Oceans 411 teaches kindergarten through eighth-grade students about ocean conservation and beach safety. Seventh and eighth graders lead activities on the beach that reinforce what they learn in class.

This spring, third grader Zoe Wu discovered how she could protect turtles.

"We should not leave trash on the beach," Wu said.

Classmate Louie Taylor tells why, "The turtles can get their necks or plastic could kill them or destroy their environment."

Aprile Uhland has worked with Gamble-Dorn on the program's artwork while her children were at Ocean Shore.

"She's just a go-getter as far as wanting to make sure children learn about the environment, so that they can take of the environment that we live in," Uhland said.

In addition, Gamble-Dorn is known for a whole different art project - three eight-foot-tall poles at Linda Mar Beach. They showcase 100 student paintings that teach visitors about marine life.

"I would love to see these all along the California coast," she said.

But she did get to see a glimpse of her impact on students of the past: While she was at the beach, college student Julian Moore happened to recognize her from taking part in Oceans 411 years ago.

Moore told us Gamble-D helped shape his ambitions.

"That's why I'm doing an environmental science degree," Moore said. "I just remember Sheila always being there, just super, super inspiring."

So for sharing her love for the ocean through art and education for more than three decades, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Sheila Gamble-Dorn.

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