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Changing Lives: Final Results for 2018-2019 SWAMP Program

May 2019 – More than 2,190 Collier County school kids, teachers and parents explored the Big Cypress National Preserve this school year on curriculum-based science education programs led by National Park Service rangers. Read the final report on this year’s program below, or watch this video of students from North Naples Middle School on a SWAMP program in November 2018.

Final Narrative Report / Swamp Water and Me Program / 2018-2019 Program Year

The Swamp Water and Me Program (SWAMP) at Big Cypress National Preserve is a curriculum-based environmental education program serving 6th-grade students and teachers in Collier County. SWAMP turns Big Cypress into an outdoor classroom where students participate in hands-on experiential learning. Programs are offered free of charge to all public and private schools in Collier County from October to March. The program has three main components:

Classroom Visits: SWAMP begins in the classroom with a visiting Big Cypress ranger.  Students are introduced to the Big Cypress and briefed on their upcoming field trip.

Class Field Trips: Students embark on a day-long field trip to Big Cypress where they use radio-telemetry equipment, GPS and compass to track a Florida panther (in reality, a beanie baby) in three habitats. Once they locate the panther, the students conduct water quality tests, take soil samples, record the weather, and identify local flora and fauna.

The program encourages students to use their observation and analytical skills to discover variations in the natural world. All data collected and measurements recorded by students are used for follow-up activities back in the classroom.

Teacher Workshops: All teachers who participate in SWAMP are required to attend a workshop before they can bring their students on a field trip to Big Cypress.

In addition to SWAMP, Big Cypress education rangers provide special programs for school groups and the public. Education rangers also represent the Big Cypress at local festivals and special events. Both responsibilities help connect Collier County residents to the Big Cypress.

2018 – 2019

PROGRAMS

# Programs # Schools Title I # Students # Adults # Total
Classroom

Visits

118 12 4 2,290 2,290
Big Cypress Field Trips 61 12 4 1,966 227 2,193
Teacher Workshop 1 4 2 4 4

.

Accomplishments

More than 2,190 students, teachers and parent chaperones completed the Swamp Water and Me Program during the 2018-2019 program year from October to March. Rangers visited 118 classrooms to prep 2,290 students for a school outing to Big Cypress and then led 1,966 students and 227 teachers and chaperones (total participants = 2,193) on 61 field trips in the Big Cypress.

Nine public and three private schools participated this year (a list of participating schools is included below). Four of the nine public schools that participated were Title I schools and 31% of all students (616 of 1,966) who visited Big Cypress on a SWAMP field trip this year were enrolled at a Title I school in Collier County.

Big Cypress rangers also led 1 teacher workshop for 4 teachers new to the program.

The Impact of SWAMP on Participating Students

See the attached report (below) on Student Evaluations for 2018-2019

Trends in Participation

The Big Cypress SWAMP program served fewer students and adults during the 2018-2019 school year because of the government shutdown that began on December 22 and ended January 25. All education rangers were furloughed during the shutdown, prompting the cancellation of 42 classroom visits and 22 field trips (affecting 990 students). As a result of the shutdown, Big Cypress reached fewer students in the classroom (2,290 vs. 2,815 last year) and on student field trips (1,966 vs. 2,673 last year). Interest in the program remains high, despite the disruption caused by the shutdown, and we expect enrollment numbers to rebound next year,

SWAMP Video

The South Florida National Parks Trust hired a videographer in November 2018 to join a class of sixth-grade students from North Naples Middle School on a field trip in Big Cypress National Preserve. Students were filmed during the program, resulting in a 4-minute video. The SWAMP video will be used to promote the program and train new teachers. The SFNPT also plans to use the video as a fundraising tool for the program. The video was shown to donors for the first time in February 2019 at the SFNPT’s annual Wine & Wildlife fundraising event in Naples. Guests of the event donated $10,500 after watching the video. 

Student Comments about SWAMP

“I feel so brave!”

“This was the best field trip ever…”

“I learned that nature is important. I learned that hiking in nature is really fun and amazing.”

“I learned how to test soils, test pH levels, and how to track a panther. I can use these if I become a scientist in Big Cypress.”

“I learned that we should respect the environment and its animals. I also learned that controlled fires benefit the environment. Lastly, I learned that our drinking water comes from an aquifer under Big Cypress.

List of Participating Schools for 2018-2019 Program Year *

 

Public Schools

 

Title I

 

# of Students

% Free or

Reduced Lunch

Immokalee Middle Title I 328 98%
East Naples Middle Title I 258 82%
Everglades City School Title I 14 82%
Manatee Middle Title I 16 89%
Title I subtotal  616
Cypress Palm Middle 199
Corkscrew Middle 194
North Naples Middle 265
Oakridge Middle 293
Pineridge Middle 335
Private Schools
Donahue Academy 21
Seacrest Country Day 24
St. Anne’s 19
TOTAL 1,966

 

* Two other public schools – Golden Gate and Gulfview middle schools – had expected to participate in the program this year. Site visits and field trips were scheduled for both school, but those programs were canceled because of the government shutdown.

2018-2019 SWAMP Student Evaluation Results

To quantify the impact of the Swamp Water and Me Program (SWAMP), participating students are asked to complete a questionnaire before and after they visit Big Cypress National Preserve. The multiple-choice questionnaire tests students on their knowledge of the Big Cypress, native wildlife and local ecology. The questionnaire also includes two short-answer responses.

A total of 2,131 students completed the questionnaire before visiting Big Cypress. A smaller number of students – 1,040 – completed the questionnaire after the field trip.

Student Questionnaire / Student Responses

  1. Which of the following habitats is not found in Big Cypress National Preserve?
  • Cypress Swamp
  • Pineland
  • Prairie
  • Spruce Fir Forest (correct answer)
  • I don’t know

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 15% before the field trip / 88% after the field trip

  1. Where do we get our drinking water from?
  • Canals
  • Lakes and rivers
  • The Limestone Aquifer (correct answer)
  • The Ocean
  • I don’t know

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 26% before the field trip / 60% after the field trip

  1. Why is the water in Big Cypress important to the estuary?
  • The water from Big Cypress doesn’t flow into the estuary.
  • The fresh water from Big Cypress makes the estuary’s water brackish. (correct answer)
  • The saltwater from Big Cypress makes the estuary’s water brackish.
  • The water from Big Cypress provides coral for the estuary.

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 25% before the field trip / 47% after the field trip

  1. Where does the water in the Big Cypress National Preserve watershed come from?
  • Glaciers
  • The Gulf of Mexico
  • Lake Okeechobee
  • Rainfall (correct answer)
  • I don’t know

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 29% before the field trip / 61% after the field trip

  1. What pH values are healthy for aquatic organisms?
  • Less than 6
  • Between 6 and 8 (correct answer)
  • More than 8
  • pH is not important for aquatic organisms
  • I don’t know

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 28% before the field trip / 57% after the field trip

  1. Which of the following soil types would you most likely find in a cypress swamp?
  • Loam
  • Marl
  • Peat (correct answer)
  • Sand
  • I don’t know

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 9% before the field trip / 38% after the field trip

  1. Imagine a wildfire burning in Big Cypress. The weather report tells you the relative humidity will be very low for the next few days. Are you worried the wildfire will get bigger? Why / why not?
  • I am worried. Low relative humidity means the winds will be changing.
  • I am worried. The preserve will be dry and there will be no rain. (correct answer)
  • I am not worried. Low relative humidity means the fire will be put out by rain.
  • I am not worried. Low relative humidity means there will be little wind to spread the fire.
  • I don’t know.

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 38% before the field trip / 44% after the field trip

  1. How much does the Florida panther protect other wildlife in Big Cypress?
  • Not at all
  • Just a little
  • Somewhat (correct answer)
  • A lot (correct answer)
  • I don’t know

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 72% before the field trip / 82% after the field trip

  1. How important is fire in keeping habitats healthy in Big Cypress National Preserve?
  • Not at all
  • Just a little
  • Fairly important (correct answer)
  • Very important (correct answer)
  • I don’t know

Percentage of students who answered correctly: 63% before the field trip / 81% after the field trip

  1. How important is it to protect National Park Units like Big Cypress?
  • Not at all
  • Just a little
  • Fairly important
  • Very important

Percentage of students who said “fairly important” or “very important”:  79% before the field trip / 91% after the field trip

  1. Based on your answer above, tell us why you feel this way.
  • It’s our water source.
  • if we do not protect this preserve not only will all the wildlife be nearly extinct we will not have enough drinking water and if the big cypress is gone it will cause our ecosystem to collapse. If we don’t protect this preserve not only will all the wildlife be nearly extinct we will not have enough drinking water and if the big cypress is gone it will cause our ecosystem to collapse.
  • This park contains valuable resources that can help our ecosystem thrive.
  • The Big Cypress National Preserve is a natural watershed, and home for endangered animals.
  • The National Park Units are unique and are home to many animals. Also some are important to our life like Big Cypress because it gives us water.
  • If you protect a national park, you can help to protect multiple animals that could possibly be endangered.
  • I think protecting National Parks are important because you are protecting the whole country also!
  • Without the cypress swamp climate will change a lot.
  1. How do you feel about becoming a scientist or a park ranger?
  • I would never think about becoming a scientist or park ranger.
  • I don’t think I would like to become a scientist or a park ranger.
  • I could become a scientist or a park ranger, but there are other things I would rather do.
  • I am thinking about becoming a scientist or a park ranger.
  • I definitely want to become a scientist or park ranger.

Percentage of students receptive to becoming a scientist or park ranger:

  • 14% before the field trip / 18% after the field trip
  1. What are the most important things you learned during the SWAMP program?
  • I learned that not all swamps smell bad. Not all swamps have dirty water. Most swamp dirt is mushy and stays together. There can be little to no water in swamps.
  • To protect wildlife and respect the environment and nature
  • Trees can protect themselves from fires. Rangers can control fires.
  • Forest fires can help the environment. We get our drinking water from there. The environment supports lots of wildlife.
  • I learned how to test soils, test Ph levels, and how to track a panther. I can use these if I become a scientist at Big Cypress.
  • I learned that we should respect the environment and its animals. I also learned that controlled fires benefit the environment. Lastly, I learned that our drinking water comes from an aquifer under Big Cypress.
  • That the circle of life is more important than you would think.
  • I learned that nature is important. I learned that hiking in nature is really fun and amazing.

Rangers also recorded anecdotal quotes from students in the field. Here’s a sampling of student quotes during their field trip:

  • Today was eye-opening. This is my backyard.
  • Before going into the swamp a student said that it was going to be scary. 10 minutes later it was “awesome”.
  • I want to be a park ranger when I grow up.
  • The swamp is breathtaking!
  • Nature makes the best playground.
  • I am going to beg my Mom to bring me here for my birthday.
  • This was the most adventurous day of my life.
  • Yeah! I forgot trees are alive.
  • I was so excited to come out to the swamp that I could barely sleep last night.
  • Este lugar es incredible! (Translation: This place is incredible!)
  • This was the best field trip ever, I want to come here every day!
  • I feel so brave.

Discussion

After reviewing the data and the student responses, the National Park staff is excited about the increases in student learning. All questions showed an increase in learning, and a majority of questions showed large increases. The exception for large increases concerns questions about the Florida panther and fire ecology which showed only modest gains. This may be attributed to the fact that students have had multiple exposures to these topics in earlier grades and in real life experiences. The hands-on activities improve students’ understanding beyond that learned through text book lessons and classroom videos. Students are building connections that will aid them in retaining information, grow their knowledge, and may lead to new career choices for some. The National Park staff hopes to continue building upon this successful program and continue to host Collier County students in a unique learning environment that takes them beyond the traditional classroom.

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