The Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) program continues to expand and enormous thanks are due to all those who are making this possible. In the next few weeks we hope to employ a fulltime Programs Director (see below) and this should give LIFE an additional stimulus.
When we took the LIFE program over three years ago, there were 7 participating state parks. At present, we have an awesome 34 parks offering the program or pledged to do so. That means tens of thousands of school children are learning about science and for many of them it is the first time they have ever been in a state park.
Our aim is where practical, to have every one of our state parks used by local schools as open air classrooms for curriculum-based science labs.
We are incredibly lucky to have Dale Allen as our first volunteer LIFE District Administrator in District 1 and we are actively looking for other folks to play a similar role in the other districts. Dale is a former science teacher and currently President of the Florida and Greenways Trails Foundation, the other statewide CSO group attached to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The role of the District LIFE administrators is to provide the support and stimulus needed to keep the momentum going. This means working with the parks, CSO groups, volunteers, local schools and school superintendents to increase program participation and where possible, working with local companies willing to financially support the program. This can be either through purchase of equipment or assisting with transportation costs to get the children to and from the park.
If you are interested in being a District LIFE Administrator or know someone who might be a good candidate, please let us know.
Two recent LIFE programs that attracted considerable attention took place at Oscar Scherer State Park and Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park and deserve mentioning.
At Oscar Scherer, a group of Lamarque Elementary School fifth-graders, became wildlife biologists for a day and they could not have been more engaged. That was exactly what Katherine Clements, an educator with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Sarasota County, hoped would happen when she put the program together. It was the first of three LIFE field trips the students will complete during the year.
The program is exciting because LIFE, originally designed for middle school grades, has now been extended to fifth-graders and is exposing them to real, hands-on scientific experiences. Clements hopes that some of these students will go on to become scientists, perhaps inspired by the lessons they learned at Oscar Scherer.
The other success involves Alan Miller, a ranger at Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, who has long wanted to incorporate the LIFE program into the park’s activities.
“The challenge, however, was their immediate neighbor, the Energy Marine Center (EMC). All area schools include the EMC in their curriculum and did not have a cost effective reason for adding a similar program here”, said park manager Adam Belden.
Alan, however, kept up his enthusiasm for the idea and started targeting home school groups either through social media or talking to parents with children exploring the park on a weekday. His tenacity finally paid off with his first Home School LIFE interpretive and interactive program that hosted 29 students ages 3 to 16 as well 7 parents. “Today he exemplified what a Florida Park Service Ranger is and why the Florida Park Service is a three time gold medal winner,” said Adam. Hear, hear.There are many ways you can get involved and support children’s education in Florida’s state parks. You can volunteer to assist with the LIFE program as a volunteer and you can support it financially by clicking on the LIFE button in the drop down menu on the donations page.