Lasting Impression Through Learning
A unique environmental education program is giving Dunnellon students the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the community. The students are participating in the Legacy Program, a Southwest Florida Water Management District-funded project that receives matching grant funds from Florida Learn and Serve.
The Legacy Program is a hands-on learning experience that allows seventh- and eighth-grade students the opportunity to increase their knowledge about watersheds and the water resources within them while exposing students to a variety of career opportunities in land management. Students are partnered with publicly owned land and allowed to participate in land management activities. Examples of activities include plant biodiversity studies, water-quality testing, the designing of hiking trails and exotic species identification and removal.
Ms. Haynes’ students are researching the wetlands and uplands habitats. They will use what they learn to create educational displays at the District’s Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve.
Dunnellon Middle School is the lead school in this pilot program, which is modeled after the St. Johns River Water Management District’s Legacy Program. Sande Haynes, a Dunnellon Middle School science teacher, designed the program. Her background is as a field instructor at a nature center. She is also a GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) program certified teacher and a Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) trainer. GLOBE is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program.
The program, which is part of the Promoting Awesome Watershed Stewardship (PAWS) program at the school, is in its first year and has expanded to include one fifth-grade class at Dunnellon Elementary School, two Dunnellon High School teachers, the Dunnellon Middle School video production classes and the middle school’s ecology club.
The Legacy Program is known as a program of choice, which means that students have to indicate an interest in participating in the program.
“Students have to apply to be in the program but no one who applies is turned down,” said Haynes.
Students who choose to participate in the class have the opportunity to conduct research for their projects during monthly field trips.
The seventh-grade students are creating interpretive displays for kiosks at the District’s Hálpata Tastanaki Preserve. The displays are aimed at teaching visitors to the land about wetland soils, the relationship between the water table and the different plant communities above ground.
On a recent field trip to the preserve, the class worked on a plant biodiversity survey. Although this was the first time the class was going to do a biodiversity study, recent trips to the property allowed them to have a working knowledge of what to expect when working on public property and conducting scientific investigations.
“They are going to compare the wetlands and the uplands habitats once a month through the spring so they can determine if the changes they see are a unique phenomenon or whether the changes are weather-related,” said Haynes. The students will also determine if the changes they see are consistent or out of the ordinary each time they visit the preserve.
The kiosks the class will use to display their information are being built by one of Haynes’ former students, who also is the son of one of the class chaperones. Lois Brauckmuller’s oldest son Christopher is working toward becoming an Eagle Scout. So when Lois found out what Haynes needed, she knew whose help to enlist. “It’s kind of become a family project. I was aware that she needed a kiosk built and I knew someone who could do it. It all works together,” said Brauckmuller. Lois got involved with Haynes’ classes because her three sons have all had or currently have Ms. Haynes as a teacher.
Another chaperone, Danielle Spink, also got involved with the class after her daughter, Nadia, told her about what her class was doing. “We have wetlands where we’re at so it would be kind of nice to learn more about what we’re trying to preserve,” said Spink.
After the class finished its first assignment, the students moved on to visiting “their” plants. “A scientist from the District tagged about 40 plants for us. The students had to choose five plants and learn about them,” said Haynes. “They’ve done a little online research about the plants and visit the same plants each time so they get more information about the plants.”
The students said they like going on the field trips because they like learning about animals and plants and their differences. However, there are some things they don’t enjoy, like the weather. “It’s always cold. Every time we’ve come out here it’s freezing,” said April Hollingsworth. Not only is it cold, but as Christian Linan noted, “the wind blows our papers away.” Despite the cold, Kai Guest said he also likes going on the field trips to get away from school.
The eighth-graders, who go out to the preserve on different days, are working on several other projects including completing soil profiles of the wetlands and uplands. The class used soil samples and borings to complete their research.
“The USGS (United States Geographic Survey) confirmed what we found and are creating the monoliths for us,” said Haynes. Monoliths are tubes of soil that show the different layers of soil that make up the ground in an area. These monoliths will be used to illustrate the difference between the make-up of uplands and wetlands soil.
The eighth-grade class also takes water samples from several sites along the river and the springs. These samples are tested and the data is provided to the University of Florida’s Lakewatch group, as well as Marion County’s Watershed Action Volunteers (WAV) program — a joint venture between the District and the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Besides receiving financial assistance from the District and Florida’s Learn and Serve grant program, the Legacy Program has also received financial assistance from the Marion County Education Fund for summer camps and the University of Florida Fish for Success program. A local businessman is also donating the wood for the kiosk. Lois attributes the outpouring of support to Haynes’ enthusiasm. As Lois put it, “She has a way of asking for help and people just line up. It’s incredible.” With support like this, these students and future students will be able to leave a lasting legacy on the environment.
For more information about the Youth Education education programs in your county, please call the District Communication Department at 1-800-423-1476, ext. 4757.