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Discovery Environmental Education Program (DEEP) opens its doors to eager students for the 12th year at Brazoria NWR
Southwest Region, October 5, 2006
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Volunteer Justina Dent presenting the reptiles mini-course.
Volunteer Justina Dent presenting the reptiles mini-course. - Photo Credit: n/a
Volunteers Rich Tillman and Al Kinback seining for saltmarsh fauna
Volunteers Rich Tillman and Al Kinback seining for saltmarsh fauna - Photo Credit: n/a

 

Imagine a child who has never been out of the city catching her first glimpse of huge flocks of geese thunderously rising from a pond or watching baby alligators basking with their mother. The Texas Mid-Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex provides these and many other experiences to thousands of students and adults each year through an intensive and unique hands-on experience in outdoor education through the Discovery Environmental Education Program (DEEP).  TT Bryan Adams coordinates the program and with the assistance of a devoted group of volunteers and always willing to assist staff members, carries out DEEP.  The program opened in October for the 12th year.

All fourth and seventh grade students from the Brazosport Independent School District spend the day in DEEP activities that can foster a life-long love of wild places. Children learn about animal tracks, reptiles, birds, and insects, and even learn how to fish! They learn the ways in which water chemistry affects life, and the importance of wetlands to the fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico.  The Discovery Complex provides a center for these activities and allows students to bring samples from the wild into a laboratory setting and conduct experiments and observations they could not make in the field, and it is here that the volunteers and staff gather to prepare for another day of sharing their love of nature with children and other adults. 

Fourth grade students from the Angleton Independent School District are involved in an exciting program involving several areas of the Refuge complex. This program provides an intensive year of experience with students making a number of trips to the Hudson Woods Unit, Brazoria and San Bernard Refuges.  The School received a third Nature of Learning grant to continue to support their participation in DEEP.

Additional groups of students have traveled almost a hundred miles to take part in this special experience.

While a small portion of habitat has been altered by construction of facilities, the children involved in the DEEP are closely supervised by staff and volunteer naturalists to assure minimal impact on organisms and habitats, and to assure the safety of participants.

Small numbers of organisms, like aquatic insects, are temporarily removed from the habitat for observation, but these organisms are returned and students are taught the ethic of leaving the Refuge in an undisturbed state. Students are taught the importance good wildlife observation techniques, including moving slowly and quietly to produce the least possible disruption to the environment.  At some sites students have been involved with habitat restoration projects.  Many students live within a few miles of the Refuge but have never visited it prior to becoming active participants in the program.  After their trip these same students return on weekends and in the summer bringing their families and friends.

The Discovery Environmental Education Program (DEEP) has been functioning at Texas Mid-Coast since 1994. It currently serves over 3,000 students and in future years may be expanded to 5,000 to 6,000 students as the population of the area increases. In addition, it is anticipated that high school and college students may begin to use these facilities more frequently. The Discovery Center is based at Brazoria NWR, but DEEP activities are also conducted at San Bernard NWR and the Hudson Woods Unit of the San Bernard NWR.

This program is conducted mainly on Tuesdays and Thursdays between the months of September and May. Currently staffing is provided by a half-time FWS employee and 1/3 of the time from the ORP.  The DEEP also makes use of many dedicated and skilled volunteers. A typical DEEP session will involve 10-15 docents as well as several teachers and 5 to 10 parents from the school being hosted. Since these trips last most of the school day, each trip requires a considerable commitment of time and effort. As some docents move on to other activities, new volunteers are recruited and trained, with the Cradle of Texas Master Naturalists serving as a major source of trained docents. There are many additional students that could potentially be served by this program, with expansion being limited by the number of available docents as well as the carrying capacity of the environment.  In addition to the activities of the docents, the Friends of Brazoria Wildlife Refuges have a fundraising campaign to channel the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations that wish to play a part in this important program.  The Friends have made use of grants to provide the equipment and supplies required for a high quality field experience.  These include seines and other nets to collect specimens, testing equipment to study water chemistry, stereomicroscopes, a video microscope projector, and binoculars, as well as high quality displays and an aquarium. 

The facilities developed for the DEEP program are frequently used by the general public when students are not present. The Discovery Center provides a meeting site for Refuge staff and the Friends of the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuges and serves as a visitor contact station. In the near future construction is expected to begin on the Discovery Pavilion, a screened structure elevated above Big Slough. This pavilion will provide wonderful views of an important freshwater habitat and will also serve as a sheltered lunch area for students and supply additional space for environmental education activities.

Students are naturally curious and enjoy being outdoors, and this program taps into their enthusiasm and directs it into a science learning experience with few equals!  Texas mandates that a significant percentage of science education be in the form of lab and field investigations.  This program makes a perfect fit. The experiences provided at the Discovery Complex influence the lives of the children of and help them to fully appreciate the gift of living on the Texas coast.

Those of us interested in the future of wild places should keep in mind the words of the Sengalese scholar and statesman, Baba Dioum:

“In the end we will conserve only what we love.

We love only what we understand.

We understand only what we are taught.”


Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov



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