A family chows down on some hamburgers and fries at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier on Thursday. Students who visit the pier learn about nutrition by be examining food sold at the iconic landmark. (photo by Kevin Herrera)

SM PIER — The brilliant Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier is an icon. It’s also a great example of a circle. There are acute angles hidden in the spokes of the wheel, rectangular prisms in the gondolas and geometric cones in the delicious confection purchased from a nearby vendor.

While most children see the wheel as an entertaining amusement park fixture, organizers are looking to draw out the educational value of this Santa Monica landmark.

“To make a child look at the pier in ways that their education is being applied in the classroom, really it’s a win-win for everyone,” said Jim Harris, deputy director for the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation and a member of the Pier Curriculum Champions Committee.

The committee includes representatives from the pier, Heal the Bay, educators and other community members. The goal is to make the pier more school-friendly, with an online curriculum designed for all levels, from Pre-K through 12th grade.

The idea for a pier curriculum was originally designed to be part of the pier’s centennial celebration in 2009.

“Several members of the Pier Restoration Corporation said … they really wanted to connect kids to the celebration of the centennial, so they would develop an appreciation for the importance of historical preservation,” said Rebecca Sprigg, a curriculum consultant for the project and director of the CREST After School Program.

The committee applied for and received a $50,000 grant from Sempra Energy to create the curriculum. Working with teachers from Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and other educators, Sprigg and the other committee members compiled lessons to follow California educational standards.

Lessons include everything from learning about unhealthy fast food at the pier for youngsters to calculating the potential energy of the West Coaster for high school students.

“We wanted [people] to realize the rich history and amazing resources for teaching that the pier can offer,” said Tara Trieber, education director for Heal the Bay and fellow committee member. “It can engage students in a really visceral, hands-on, in-your-face way.”

While the rest of the committee’s work for the centennial came and went, the curriculum is one piece that will live on, said Jeff Klocke, director of marketing for Pacific Park.

“We pushed hard so that this could live past the Centennial,” Klocke said. “We’re most proud of that fact.”

Local teachers are already taking advantage of the resource, and the pier hopes to attract more through greater publicity about the curriculum.

Students from Santa Monica High School, the Marina del Rey Middle School Marine Science Academy, the Carlthorp School and an east coast educational tour group called Smithsonian Student Travel have taken advantage of the program, said Sarah McCann, marketing sales manager with Pacific Park.

Samohi students got to experience the educational side of the park first through the Connect 4 Success program, a seven-week course that helps prepare graduated eighth graders for their first year of high school.

Approximately 120 “Connecters” have used a portion of the teaching tool over the last three years that both the program and the curriculum have been available, said Rosa Serratore, coordinator for secondary curriculum at the district.

While it’s nice for local schools to visit the pier, the staff hopes to attract groups from further away. They set the stage by creating the documents and posting them online for the world to see.

Now it’s just a matter of getting the word out, McCann said.

“It’s quite shocking that teachers were uneducated about the opportunities at the pier to learn hands on,” McCann said.

While the curriculum was released in September 2009, the committee is still working to get teachers onboard. The curriculum was distributed to more than 500 teachers in SMMUSD and other local districts that year, Sprigg said.

“Unless you’re constantly promoting it, it kind of gets [put on] the back burner,” Sprigg said. “We know it’s a great educational resource, but the teachers don’t know that.”

The committee also hosts “teacher familiarization nights,” to invite teachers to come learn about the curriculum and tour the pier. With three “fam nights” so far, Sprigg estimated that 90-100 teachers had come out to learn about the pier.

The upshot to the pier, in the eyes of Pacific Park’s staff, is that it can cost as much or as little as a school can afford, from $2 to $20 per student plus the cost of transportation.

“It’s nice to have a local option that’s inexpensive, easy to get to and convenient,” Serratore said.

The curriculum can be found at www.santamonicapier.org/curriculum.

— Staff writer Ashley Archibald contributed to this story.

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