“What are we really accomplishing running 20,000 students through the refuge each year?”
Beth Ullenberg, supervisory visitor services manager at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge questioned the value of field trips.
So Minnesota Valley Refuge initiated a Refuge Partner Schools Program, one of nine programs described in a Special Report: Bringing Environmental Education to Diverse Audiences.
The special report not only gives the public a good insight into the range of environmental education programs offered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it also shares innovative approaches that staff on national wildlife refuges can adapt or adopt for their own communities.
Minnesota Valley Refuge partners with schools that have a good number of ethnically diverse and low-income students as well as a principal who strongly supports outdoor learning but has no environmental educators or nature area within walking distance.
Children in every grade at each partner school visit the refuge at least three times each year. Each visit is linked to classroom curriculum with increasingly challenging lessons that meet state educational standards in math, English, physical education, social studies and science.
“This is the hands-on piece that I wanted,” said Jenny Killian, a teacher whose school has participated in the program for its entire five years. “By getting the kids out in nature…it sticks in those little brains more than it would if we just read about it in books.”
Children from Refuge Partner Schools send students to Minnesota Valley Refuge, MN, for spring, fall and winter field trips. (Photo: USFWS)
And on the other side of the country, Alaskan children travel by boat to a traditional fishing site at Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, where village elders teach them how to haul nets for whitefish and refuge staffers talk about the life cycle of these fish.
The elders are eager to keep Inupiaq traditions alive in a generation of children who don’t move across the land with the seasons as their forebears did. By weaving the concepts of Western science into traditional knowledge, refuge staffers help convey the message that these two ways of knowing need not conflict.
The special report also highlights programs at:
- San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, CA
- K?lauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, HI
- Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge, TX
- National Elk Refuge, WY
- Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, CO
- Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, FL
- John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA
- and Barrett Elementary School in Arlington, VA
Although many of the programs detailed in the report have been cut back because of funding constraints, each offers ideas on how to become the adult who, as Rachel Carson said, can rediscover the “joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
PDF versions of full report and individual articles