To educate young people on the importance of these wetlands, the LSU AgCenter’s Youth Wetlands Program, which is in its fifth year, offers a wetlands-based curriculum for grades four through 12. The educational materials include a curriculum guide that contains many lessons and activities and educational videos highlighting careers in wetland-related fields.
Each year the program coordinates “Youth Wetlands Week,” which this year is April 18-22. During this week, teachers are encouraged to incorporate lessons from the educational materials distributed statewide to teachers through parish extension offices. Educational programs are held across the state focusing on the vital role wetlands play.
“We have tested the students’ knowledge of wetlands before and after the program. Our results find their knowledge has increased significantly after participating in the program,” said Ashley Mullens, youth wetlands program coordinator. Events scheduled during the week include an educational booth at the Baton Rouge Earth Day celebration, wetland plantings in St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Cameron parishes, and adding wetland plants to school greenhouses for future plantings.
Mullens said a wetlands area is not necessarily needed to perform many of the activities in the curriculum. Some exercises can be conducted in a classroom setting and show how concepts such as hydrology work.
“We have many lessons that can be conducted in a wetlands area that doesn’t have to be large,” she said.
Mullens said she encourages the lessons to be incorporated throughout the school year. The lessons are grade-appropriate and have been peer-reviewed. The lessons also teach concepts related to the LEAP test, she said. The educational materials include two 15-minute videos called “Wet Work.” The videos highlight careers young people may be interested in that involve wetlands and feature alligator ranching and the study of reptiles and amphibians. Mark Tassin, state director of the 4-H youth program, said the program fits the educational mission of 4-H.
“The 4-H Youth Wetlands Education and Outreach program provide hands-on learning that continues to build on the foundation of positive youth development,” said Mark Tassin, state director of the 4-H youth program.
“Youth gain knowledge of wetland issues through school enrichment programs that will reach 80,000 youth this school year. In addition youth and adult partnerships are formed through wetland plantings and summer camping opportunities such as Marsh Maneuvers, Wildwood Wanderings and 4-H summer camp. As one 4-Her put it ‘Other youth groups talk about what they are going to do, but 4-H youth do it,’” Tassin said.
Since its beginning, the program has received numerous awards including the Louisiana Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Educator Program of the Year and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s 2011 Connecting Youth with Nature through Natural Resources Conservation Education Award. The program has also been recognized as a program of distinction by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The program is supported through the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration and has secured funding through 2012.