The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is partnering with the Okaloosa County School Board, the Okaloosa County Extension Offices of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Florida Sea Grant agents and the Friends of Emerald Coast State Parks to continue the Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) program that started this fall in Okaloosa County.
This partnership, the 14th in the LIFE network, teaches 200 seventh-graders from Richbourg and Destin Middle School science concepts, methods and skills through hands-on labs at Henderson Beach State Park and Rocky Bayou State Park.
“Spending time in Florida’s environment can go hand in hand with inspiring tomorrow’s scientists,” said Greg Ira, DEP’s Director of Environmental Education. “I can’t tell you how much fun it is to watch as students rediscover familiar places but learn new things when they look at them through the lens of science.”
As the second of two field experiences, students will explore fish adaptations, map coastal dunes using GPS units, and classify sand at different locations along the beach. The labs provide a unique opportunity for the students to compare the estuary of Rocky Bayou State Park with the high energy marine environment on the Gulf. Together, the two field experiences help students better understand the greater Choctawhatchee Bay Watershed in which most of these students live.
“The LIFE program meets all of the criteria for education excellence,” said Shawnea Tallman, Science Coordinator, Okaloosa County School District. “We feel very fortunate to have so many of our students learning science in a real-world setting, and in a fun atmosphere that also instills a sense of environmental stewardship."
Since 2004, more than 5,000 future scientists and environmental stewards have participated in the LIFE program.
The LIFE initiative established a systematic and statewide network of field-based, environmental-science programs that bring students out to public lands to learn science.
The goals of the LIFE program are increased student achievement, teacher professional development in science, increased participation of underserved and under-represented populations and increased stewardship of public lands.