July 2019 – Thousands of South Florida school children had a chance to spot alligators, track panthers, catch a fish or snorkel a coral reef this year on national park field trips, overnight camps and other programs supported by the South Florida National Parks Trust.
South Florida’s four national parks reached 17,993 students during the 2018-2019 school year with curriculum-based programs that turned parks into classrooms and sent rangers into schools to teach students about the Everglades, Big Cypress, Biscayne Bay and the Dry Tortugas. The free programs are led by park rangers and supported with funding provided by the Trust.
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Here are some highlights from this year’s education programs in South Florida’s national parks:
Everglades National Park
National Park Service rangers introduced 12,838 students to Everglades National Park this year on national park field trips, overnight camps, Florida Bay snorkel trips and other programs.
The Everglades Education Program has grown significantly in recent years with the addition of new Every Kid in a Park field trips to the park. The new programming was added in 2016 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
Everglades Education programs are targeted to 4th, 5th and 6th-grade students. The programs are provided free of charge to schools so that all children may attend, regardless of where they live, the school they attend, or their economic status.
“Not one of the children had ever been to a national park and they went home with a new love for nature and our environment,” Riverside Elementary teacher Amary Rivera wrote after bringing 47 students to the park in November 2018.
The Trust provided $244,000 to support the Everglades Education Program this year including $22,680 in free bus transportation to the park for disadvantaged schools.
Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park reached 2,626 students during the 2018-2019 school year by offering a variety of hands-on programming in the park, on the water and in classroom labs.
Students who visited the park learned how to use dip nets, digital microscopes and fishing poles while engaging in activities that showcased the park’s marine ecosystem.
“We dissected a lionfish! How cool is that?” one Palmetto Middle School student exclaimed after participating in the program.
Students who joined the park’s new Fish On program learned how to identify marine species while fishing in the park while other students went camping as part of the Expedition program.
The Trust provided $188,000 in support for Biscayne’s education programs this year.
Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve introduced 2,290 Collier County 6th-grade students to the Big Cypress Swamp this year through the Swamp Water and Me Program (SWAMP), a science education program that teaches students how to use their skills of observation and analysis to become scientists for the day.
SWAMP begins in the classroom with a visit from a ranger to prepare students for their field trip. Rangers spoke to 2,290 students during 118 classroom visits this year before leading 61 field trips into Big Cypress for 1,966 students.
While in the swamp, students break into groups to explore three different habitats 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.
“I learned that nature is important (and) that hiking in nature is really fun and amazing,” one student said after completing the program.
The Trust provided $96,000 in support for SWAMP this year.
Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas Education Program reached a milestone in April when the program’s 1,000th student arrived by boat in the Dry Tortugas for a Trust-sponsored field trip. The program was started in 2006 with support from the Trust and the Key West community.
This year, 239 Key West students and 53 teachers and chaperones visited the remote island park to explore the Civil War history of Fort Jefferson and snorkel the park’s pristine coral reefs.
“The Dry Tortugas Education Program is the field trip of a lifetime,” Marine Biology Teacher Callie Harris wrote after taking 36 students to the park in May. “What better way to teach students about intertidal zones, coral reefs, mangrove islands, wetlands etc. than to expose them to these environments first-hand.”
The Trust provided $25,000 in support for the program this year.
The Trust was able to underwrite education programs in all four South Florida national parks this year thanks to the generous support of the National Park Foundation, the Batchelor Foundation, the Community Foundation of Collier County, the Peacock Foundation, the Miami Foundation, Monroe County, the Rotary Club of Key West and other donors and friends.
The SFNPT is the official nonprofit partner of the National Park Service in South Florida.
Visit www.southfloridaparks.org to learn more.