In an environmental educator’s ideal world, more students would participate in mission-targeted, reserve field experiences that support what their teachers are covering in the classroom. In reality, school testing schedules, funding issues, and district policies rarely allow teachers to take students out for field experiences that support their classroom instruction. Indeed, some school districts do not allow teachers to take students on field trips at all! Given, these restrictions, the Mission-Aransas Reserve has been extremely fortunate to collaborate with teachers from Aransas County Independent School District’s Fulton Learning Center, who are committed to teaching their students about the critical importance of our local estuary.
Mrs. McLeod, the fifth-grade science lab instructor from the Fulton Learning Center, has been taking her students out to explore the estuary environment for seven years as part of her Wetlands Week project. Reserve educators have presented programs for Wetlands Week at the Bay Education Center each October for the last six years. Wetlands Week was initially funded through a grant that Mrs. McLeod received from the Aransas County ISD Education Foundation and the support of community organizations and volunteers has allowed this valuable, annual project to continue.
Ten fifth-grade classes typically participate in Wetlands Week and each class spends a full school day rotating through various field experiences. During their day in the estuary, the students visit the Reserve’s Bay Education Center to learn about critical habitats and the wildlife they support in the Mission-Aransas Estuary. These concepts are reinforced as the students view living examples of estuary wildlife at the Aquarium at Rockport Harbor, tour estuary habitats aboard the Center for Coastal Studies’ R/V Wetland Explorer, and fish in Aransas Bay with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Game Wardens and Coastal Conservation Association volunteers. The students also learn about the pathway of fresh water, from our drains to the bay, as they tour the Rockport Wastewater Treatment Plant and then follow the path of the recycled water from the plant to Little Bay.
Our work with Mrs. McLeod’s Wetlands Week project has led to more opportunities for her fifth-graders and other Fulton Learning Center students to explore the estuary environment at the Bay Education Center. Last spring, Mrs. McLeod brought her fifth-graders back for a week of hands-on field experiences to learn how organisms are adapted to life in estuary ecosystems and how they interact with each other and the environment. Mrs. McLeod then arranged to have the entire fourth grade from Fulton Learning Center join us for similar hands-on field experiences this fall.
Increasing ocean and estuary literacy and stewardship among local citizens is a main goal of the Mission-Aransas Reserve’s education program. Local students, such as those from the Fulton Learning Center, are likely to be our community’s future coastal decision-makers, so it is very important that they understand the value of our estuary environment. Teachers, such as Mrs. McLeod, provide us with the opportunity to interact with local students and help us reach our goal of a more estuary literate society. We are so thankful to have such wonderful and dedicated teachers in our community.