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A Talk on the Wild Side.

FWS’s Houston Urban Doesn’t Let Pandemic Stop Environmental Education

  young people in face masks gather behind one sitting on wall with phone The Houston crew takes part in the conference. Photo by SCA

Adjusting to life during a global pandemic has forced us to think even more creatively than before, in an effort to continue fulfilling the mission of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The FWS’s Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement Program had an opportunity to rise to the occasion and provide meaningful conservation experiences to Houston youth in early August.

The Houston Community Partnerships and Engagement Program, Houston Urban for short, works with a variety of partners to help connect the city of Houston to nature. We’re so grateful for our partnership with the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The summer season is typically one of the busiest times for SCA, as students fill internships all over the country and youth participate in national and community crews. As an SCA alumna, the nonprofit holds a special place in my heart and played a significant role in my career path.

  screenshoot of video conference Jessica Jia of Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge (bottom left) helped out at the conference. Photo by USFWS

Last summer, Houston Urban delivered a half-day workshop to a summer crew of six high school students. Knowing firsthand how life-changing conservation experiences can be, I didn’t want the pandemic to stand in the way of connecting with youth this summer. So I virtually connected with eight high schoolers participating in a community crew. In just a few hours, I introduced myself, the Service, Refuge System and some of the exciting work I get to do in Houston, specifically environmental education. I led a program on conservation careers with the kids and we had a blast! I loved witnessing their competitive spirit while playing a version of “4 Corners” and seeing them develop an interest in careers such as wildlife biologist and fire management officer.

 young people in face masks planting

After the kids got a taste of environmental education, I challenged them to create their own programs on topics of interest to them that they’d later present. I reached out to the National Environmental Education Community of Practice and local environmental educators seeking guests for the presentations. My hopes were it would serve as a chance for students to not only practice presentation skills but, connect them to other professionals doing this work and get feedback.  Seven professionals from all over joined us. 

Within less than 36 hours, the kids (The Houston crew at left. Photo by SCA) developed and presented programs covering water quality and invasive species. As an added bonus, the two programs will be shared on the Here in Houston website, a resource full of great materials for educators. Without a doubt, the kids will be credited for their hard work and walk away with a product they can reference back to and be proud of.

I'm so happy to have seen the program grow from last year as we find new ways to connect, with one another and with nature. Having a National Environmental Education Community of Practice played a huge role in the success of expanding this program, and I’m forever grateful. Following the presentations, I've had a handful of colleagues reach out to further connect and collaborate, calling this experience “exciting” and “cool and formative.” I continue to be inspired by the individuals I meet near and far, while doing important conservation work in my beloved city of Houston. I look forward to this experience growing in the years to come.

By Felice Yarbough, Urban Park Ranger, Houston, Texas

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