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This year’s Big Cypress SWAMP Program
Gives 2,000 Kids the Gift of Nature
NAPLES, FL — More than 2,190 Collier County students, teachers and parents, braced in bright orange vests and a willingness to get wet and muddy, stepped out of the classroom and into the Big Cypress National Preserve this school year thanks to a free environmental educational program supported by the Community Foundation of Collier County.
The Swamp Water and Me Program (SWAMP) is educating the next generation of students about the importance of Big Cypress and the Greater Everglades ecosystem to Southwest Florida and the world. The program teaches students that the world can be their laboratory.
SWAMP, a curriculum-based program aligned with Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and Collier County School District’s environmental education goals, brings 6th-grade science students into the Big Cypress for a day of exploration, observation and scientific inquiry.
The programs are led by National Park Service rangers from October to March each school year. Nine public schools and three private schools participated in the program this year.
Before students head out to Big Cypress, SWAMP begins in the classroom with a visit from a Big Cypress ranger. Rangers spoke to 2,290 students during 118 classroom visits this year before leading 61 field trips into Big Cypress for 1,966 students and 227 teachers and chaperones.
By introducing students to a wilderness they might otherwise fear, SWAMP helps to build a more sustainable and environmentally engaged community. The program introduces students to the Big Cypress ecosystem while creating an emotional impact with teachers and students.
While in the swamp, students break into groups of three or four to explore three different habitats (cypress swamp, pineland and prairie) and use radio-telemetry equipment to track a Florida panther (in reality, a beanie baby). Students also conduct water quality tests, take soil samples, record weather, and identify local plants and animals.
The experience is not only hands-on, but engaging. Before participating in SWAMP, only one in four students (26%) could identify the source of their drinking water. After SWAMP, 60 percent of participating students knew their water came from the limestone aquifer beneath Big Cypress.
Students described SWAMP as “the best field trip ever.” Students said the program taught them to “respect the environment and its animals,” while also showing them how to test soil and water samples and track a Florida panther if they decide “to become a scientist in Big Cypress.”
Four out five teachers who participated in the program this year rated it as “excellent” overall. Teachers said they were happy their students were able to get a real, hands-on learning experience and a deeper appreciation for the need to protect wildlife.
Lisa Andrews, the outreach and education coordinator at Big Cypress National Preserve, said the program allows students to “get out here and experience the real thing.”
Full results of this year’s program are available from the South Florida National Parks Trust. The program is also profiled in a new video available at:
This year’s SWAMP program was made possible through generous support provided by the Community Foundation of Collier County, South Florida photographer Clyde Butcher and his family, the Trust’s annual Wine & Wildlife event in Naples, and other donors.
The Trust thanks this year’s SWAMP sponsors for giving 6th-grade science students in Collier County a learning experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
Visit https://www.southfloridaparks.org/swamp/ to learn more about SWAMP.