gantt-photoAllyson Gantt Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks

Imagine a programme that gives South Florida’s elementary students the opportunity to study native fish in the clear waters of an Everglades’ cypress dome, a programme that taught them how to collect scientific data, how to manage South Florida’s water, and how to canoe and camp. The Everglades National Park curriculum-based environmental education programme does all of this and more.

Each year, these programmes offer nearly 14,000 students the chance to apply skills they learn in school to real world activities in our National Parks, taking education beyond the classroom.  As educators, we realise that these programmes go further as they inspire kids—and their teachers and parents—to begin a life-long relationship with the natural and historical heritage that is protected by their National Parks.

“My favorite part of the day was when we went through The Gumbo Limbo Trail all alone.  Even though it was dark and scary, we got there safe, and alive.”  Amy, 5th Grade

We can only serve about 14,000 students. In a typical year, we are fully booked in about two days and put more than 100 classes on the waiting list. As demand for programmes far outpaces supply, we believe this is a tangible measure of our success. Since 1971, more than 350,000 students, teachers, and parents from five Florida counties have enjoyed the Park’s EE programmes. The Park is the longest-standing provider of environmental education to Miami-Dade County schools.  Our EE programme at Everglades National Park is the oldest in the National Park Service and has become a model for EE programmes nationwide. For more than 40 years we have produced resources for hands-on education in science, civics, and history to the children of South Florida. Students are enabled to sharpen their growing skills in science, math, civics, writing and art on real world tasks and problems.

“The Everglades is a wonderland of science!” Shawnie Bates, 5th grade

They learn about science in school and learn to collect scientific data in the parks. They learn about government and natural resources in school, and learn about demands on South Florida’s water as they visit sloughs and estuaries.

“The Everglades means a lot to me because everything we learn in science we can see in real action.” Zecharia, 5th grade

The activities students undertake in the parks not only help make the world more relevant, but may also help to spark an interest and passion to help kids succeed in school. Since students at the Miccosukee Indian School began participating in the Everglades EE programme, their science scores on national aptitude tests have increased.  In addition, we teach students how to camp, canoe, and find their way in the outdoors. For many students, their visit to Everglades National Park is the first time they have been in a wild place. By making activities like the night sky or an alligator hole accessible to them, we aim to kindle a life-long passion for national parks and the outdoors.

“I had a great time seeing the sawgrass it was really calming.” Shelby, 5th Grade

“The students enjoyed the Everglades experience and were able to make a connection with real life conservation of water from their visit. Many of the parent chaperones were highly impressed with the quality of program provided.” Teacher, EWF Stirrup Elementary

Teacher training

Each teacher participating in the programme attends an accredited continuing education workshop where they receive a park activity guide full of lesson plans that have been prepared by some of the most accomplished teachers in the region. These lesson plans help enhance their school-based curriculum with activities relevant to South Florida’s natural history and culture.

“The Everglades camping trip was a great experience for my students.  The program enabled the students to have a real world experience of nature and how animals interact in their natural environment.  Students were excited to see the wildlife and learn how everything in the Everglades depends on each other for their own survival. This field trip is one of the best educational programs, because the students are having fun while learning a lot of interesting facts and life lessons at the time.” Wendol Philord, Charles R. Hadley Elementary

Learning places

The park spans 1.5 million acres—more than 2400 square miles—and is larger than either Rhode Island or Delaware. We serve students on both coasts of Florida by locating learning places close to where they live. Day students from Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties can explore hardwood hammocks and alligator holes at Royal Palm and Long Pine Key. Day students from the southwest coast of Florida or Miami-Dade and Broward Counties can explore sawgrass prairies and sloughs at Shark Valley. Overnight campers can choose to camp and canoe in the pinelands at Hidden Lake Camp or explore the cypress domes and history at Loop Road Camp.

“I loved how you lined us up in a circle to hear the wonders of nature. It was beautiful.” Jesse, 5th grade

“It is amazing how different habitats are and how many animals have very clever adaptations.” Olena, 5th grade

There’s more information here.

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This article was first published in NAEE’s Autumn 2016 journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 113).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.