About Us

Kathleen Jacecko, Camp Founder & Director
How Did I Get Here?

Growing up in Sacramento, I was lucky to have nature all around me. When my family wasn’t camping in the summer or skiing in the winter, I would spend countless hours playing in the creek across the street from my childhood home. Never mind the playground half a block away; it wasn’t half as interesting as the crawdads and tadpoles in the creek, the birds and squirrels in the trees, and the trees themselves, which provided endless amusement as climbing structures.

Back at home, when we weren’t outside enjoying nature, we were taught that the many resources that the Earth provides – energy, water, food, paper, etc. – are precious and not to be wasted. It was these childhood experiences that instilled in me a deep appreciation for nature and an understanding that we humans have a responsibility to protect it.

Fast forward a few decades and I found myself raising a daughter in an urban environment with tiny yards and driveways and sidewalks instead of woods with creeks. At the same time, I started learning more and more about scientific studies finding a very direct link between access to nature and mental and physical health. As someone who has benefited from nature for as long as I can remember, this news didn’t surprise me at all.

Through TeachingGreen, I had been visiting classrooms to teach kids about reducing, reusing and recycling for several years, but when my daughter reached the age of the summer camp set, it struck me that a better way to teach kids to be “green” is to get them out into nature where they can learn to love it. I realized that not only do urban kids need to spend more time in nature, but that the best way to teach them to protect the environment is to allow them to experience it firsthand. Through guided play, hands-on activities and teachable moments, I can do far more for kids (and nature) at camp than I could ever do in a classroom.

A Little More About Me

Along the road from college to South Bay Eco Kids, it’s been science, the environment and education every step of the way.

I hold a B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry and a teaching credential from the University of California, Irvine, and while an undergrad there, I worked in the research lab of atmospheric chemist F. Sherwood Rowland, recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were depleting Earth’s protective ozone layer. What an honor to have met this man who helped save life on Earth from one of the greatest environmental threats of all time!

After working three years as an associate producer at a large educational software company, I decided to pursue my passion for education and became a teacher at Redondo Union High School, where I taught physics and physical science, and incorporated environmental topics into my lessons whenever possible. Wanting to focus more on environmental issues, I then went on to to work for the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust, where I helped protect part of the wetlands that were threatened with development. When the Land Trust ran out of money, I became the Public Outreach Director at Santa Monica Baykeeper, where I educated the public about water quality issues in our Santa Monica Bay.

Then in 2007, wanting to bring more environmental education to the South Bay area of Los Angeles, I founded TeachingGreen. Through it, I have worked to educate both adults and children to help them live a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. With that mission in mind, I created South Bay Eco Kids in 2017. It’s been a windy road, but this is where it was always leading. Nature is calling. Let’s go!

Maria Merwin, Camp Counselor

Hi! My name is Maria Merwin and I am a Speech Language Therapist who has been working with children ages 12 months to 11 years since 2009.  I am a proud Aunt to five wonderful nieces and nephews that I have loved to play with and watch grow. An appreciation and respect for the natural world and the joy of exploring it have always been a part of my life. Whether exploring the woods, creeks, and beaches close to home or going on family camping trips all over the US ~ I love being in nature ! I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to combine two of my passions this summer: working with children and exploring the natural world together!

 

 

 

Ashlee Priestley, Camp Counselor

My name is Ashlee Priestley. I’m from Compton California and am currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Math and Science Education at UC Santa Barbara. Science education is very important to me and I hope to share my knowledge with the youth and to one day have a STEM education program of my own.

 

 

Juan Colunga, Camp Counselor

Hi, my name is Juan Colunga. This is my first summer with South Bay Eco Kids.  I also work at Hermosa View Elementary School in Hermosa Beach as a noon aide and in their extended day program.  I worked in the corporate world, for one company, for over 20 years until I was laid off.  After working for several other companies for a few years, I decided to try something new.  I find that I really enjoy working with the kids, ensuring their safety and teaching them. In my free time, my wife, son and I enjoy attending sporting events, movies, and concerts.