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Scuba Training – A safety net for potential school dropouts

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Stars International at The Scuba News

We can all agree on two things; growth in the sport of scuba has been extremely slow, and true growth in the sport can only begin with today’s youth.

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Globally there is a small amount of youth who can actually afford to participate in scuba diving, while a greater amount stand at the sidelines interested without opportunity.  While some youth who are financially gifted could try the sport I feel most would see it as a passing fad and quickly move on to countless other opportunities at their disposal.  While conversely for youth who lack overall opportunities would be grateful to be given the chance and be more dedicated to having something unique in their lives.  But, would these youth be grateful enough to make sacrifices and positive changes in their life for an opportunity that could change their life forever?

With this idea in mind I founded a non-profit scuba training company in 2004 two years after becoming a PADI scuba instructor and realizing the countless collateral benefits of learning to scuba dive as a youth.  My initial desire was to cater to the type of youth who would likely never have the opportunity to enjoy this incredible sport, while hopefully making their dreams come true.  However my mission quickly changed to sharing my passion for diving and the ocean with wayward youth (“at-risk”), those who are struggling to stay on a positive path through their teenage years while facing one or more challenges.  Scuba Training At Risk Students, Inc.” (dba. S.T.A.R.S. International) was established to deliver a unique experiential learning program unmatched by any for-profit company, thus helping youth who were just like me growing up.

By design the curriculum was to basically use PADI scuba training as a “carrot” or “tool” to leverage an agreement between S.T.A.R.S., the participants, and parents/guardians.  As the foundation S.T.A.R.S. would collaborate with a “host” agency to form an outreach to individuals/families with a hidden goal of encouraging/promoting/guaranteeing participant improvements in; academics, attendance, social skills, behavior, outlook, goal setting (including graduation from high school), and even continuing on to college.  The targeted candidate demographics were to include only “at-risk youth” (even physically challenged), which were pre-determined to be struggling with challenges including; economic constraints, parental voids, poor supervision, lack of daily structure, lack of success, issues with mild violence/poor self-control, and those being lured into negative acts by gangs or bad influences.

Due to the large demand on rental equipment at local dive shops and the rigorous dive training schedule intended to span 10 months of each year, S.T.A.R.S. negotiated alliances with premium equipment suppliers and amassed a high quality inventory of over 23 complete sets of scuba gear.  In addition S.T.A.R.S. achieved substantial discounts to purchase consumable gear used by each participant (mask, fins, boots, snorkel, and mesh dive bag) which becomes the personal property of each participant at graduation thus encouraging their continued involvement in the sport.

Stars International at The Scuba News

S.T.A.R.S. comes in 3 distinct flavors/tiers; a 1-hour discover scuba session, a 4-day mini-camp” experience”, and a 10-month Signature program (440 hours/70 events) with the opportunity to sustain future involvement following graduation from S.T.A.R.S.  Signature Program graduates can be chosen to return in subsequent years as a mentor, volunteer, or staff member, and even continue their training to become a staff instructor in subsequent years.  Signature Program training is multi-faceted including; 36 hours of scuba academic training, 36 hours of confined water training, 36 hours of fitness training, 36 hours of self-development training, 1 week trip that completes open water certification and 7 additional PADI advanced scuba certifications.  In addition, there are countless hours of science and aquatic life training provided which is interleaved in the classroom material.

Although all Signature Program candidates must be nominated, not all candidates are chosen to participate in the Signature Program, and not all participants who begin the program complete the full program. Program attrition is typically about 60-80% over the duration as students most commonly breach the written Behavior contract or the Calendar agreement leading to their dismissal from the program.  In all cases program host agencies provide approximately two adults to accompany their youth through program and who also serve as youth participant supervisors.  In addition, to encourage family involvement, parents are required to attend one 3-hour program session per month (alongside their participant), and attend each of six “checkpoint” sessions which occur every three weeks to fully gauge their youth’s progress.

Near the mid-point each year during June S.T.A.R.S. International coordinates a week long dive trip (venue depending upon the level of accumulated funding) where they target to complete the open water checkout dives and the first two PADI Specialties.  During this action-packed weeklong trip participants are involved in; diving, community service, historical tours, cultural immersion, and of course “lots of fun” while parents/peers follow the trip back home through our nightly website uploads.  Upon return from the summer trip participants continue to dive on alternating weekends until September when they strive to achieve their PADI Rescue Diver certification.

In the end participants find a multitude of takeaways and personal rewards which include; 8 PADI certifications, ACE college credits for courses completed, a personal set of diving equipment, a vast collection of photos from their journey, and of course a unique set of tightly bonded friends whom they have shared a year of breath-taking experiences with.  Soon graduates will return eagerly passing on their experience to a new group of youth like themselves the following January.

Past results from youth involved are significant, noticeable, and notable whether they graduate the program or not.  Many youth which breach the contract and are released from the program later return to ask to be included in the following year with the promise of a stronger commitment.  All youth who have graduated have continued on to graduate high school, even some with their own children out of wedlock.  Grades of youth involved typically increase 5 to 17% between March and June in the first half of the program and by the following Christmas grades have increased up to 22% while they maintain 100% school attendance.

S.T.A.R.S. International annually collaborates with one or more HOSTs (i.e. YMCA, Boys N Girls Club, Law Enforcement, Social Agency, School Districts) which are obligated to nominate 60-90 youth (ages 13-18).  A small registration fee locks in their position and their attitude following the interview process.  The program then begins during the first week of March under the direction of our 20+ member volunteer staff.  All funding to support the ($44K-$70K) program is raised through private fund raisers without the help of any major sponsors.  The end result is that the program plants the seeds of scuba into a demographic of youth who would likely never see the underside of a boat in the water or the ocean.  Exposure obtained from the program promotes the sport of scuba, emphasizes conservation, changes young lives, drives improvements within the home, surfaces tomorrow’s leaders, and creates new “Guardians of the Seas”.  PADI recognized the value in what S.T.A.R.S. does and officially recognized them as a PADI Educational Facility S-23432 in 2012.

Join S.T.A.R.S. International in changing the future of young minds and a fragile planet.

Learn more at: http://www.starsinternational.org

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About Author

Kevin in his primary career is a 35 year AT&T veteran fulfilling the role of Global Engineer implementing custom requests for Fortune 100 companies worldwide. 15 years ago Kevin took a subtle interest in Scuba diving to augment his hobby of boating following a trip to Hawaii. He quickly found a need for a buddy which led to his creative approach to “make more buddies” by becoming a PADI instructor. Learn more at: http://www.thescubanews.com/contributors/kevin-l-vaughn/

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