State, schools partner to get students into real world

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LIFE program is field based education

By Lou Elliott Jones

Greg Ira, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Education Director, is a man with a mission.
“We want to make sure the students get out,” he said during a visit Thursday to Cedar Key Scrub. “We’re taking the classroom out of the school.”
He’s serious. Joining him in the effort is Levy County School Superintendent Bob Hastings who inked an agreement on behalf of Cedar Key School with Ira and the DEP to take high school students out of class and into the field to learn several times a year. It’s part of the LIFE program — Learning in the Florida Environment.
Cedar Key School is the 18th LIFE site in the state. The program focuses on science, technology, engineering and math skills.
The agreement is non-binding and non-financial, said Ira. “It’s just a reminder to all of us that we have a shared goal,” he told the group of state and federal wildlife and parks rangers, Cedar Key students and teachers Denny Voyles and Raymond Powers. “The success of the program depends on the commitment of the partners.”
Also in attendance was Tom Deverin of Cedar Key Energy Advisory Board, the group that helped raise money for the students’ first field trip on Atsena Otie through a Suwannee River Water Management District Grant.
The students spent their class day in the scrub recording their observations, taking measurements,  and collecting samples to be used in an exercise on soil conditions.
Holding a handheld device that records soil oisture, Ira asked the students, “I can stick this in the soil and monitor it for a two hour period. Why is it conditions change?” he asked the students in one of three groups. The students reponded with answers like the amount of sun and shade the location receives, the amount of material covering the soil, and finally, one girl said, “the wind.” It was the last answer that enthused Ira. “Wind speed and the amount of sunlight can affect soil moisture,” he said. And there are the non living factors like ground cover, he said.
Under the agreement, the partners — Cedar Key School,  the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission,  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with DEP staff — work to choose sites on state conservation lands and develop lesson plans. The partners also work together  to teach the science teachers how to better teach environmental science in an outdoor classroom.