AN OUTDOOR EDUCATION
LDWF’s WETSHOP Gives Teachers a Week-long Hands-on Experience In The Middle of Louisiana’s Wetlands
story by Angela Capello, LDWF Staff
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries understands the importance of having strong teachers in the classroom guiding the next generation.
Consequently, whether members of the next generation grow up to become scientists or sociologists, LDWF and participating partners feel it is important to give those students a strong base of understanding for why wetlands are so important to Louisiana and what future generations can do to fight the marsh’s disappearance due to subsidence and sea level rise.
That thought process is where the idea for WETSHOP was consummated. WETSHOP is a week-long wetland institute for Louisiana teachers from all corners of the state - not just those with students born on the bayous.
The teacher workshop takes place in either June or July at the Grand Isle Fisheries Research Lab (GI-FRL), and intends to educate the teachers on wetland biology so they can transfer that knowledge to their students in a way that can be easily understood.
Every day of the workshop is tailored around a specific theme. After arriving in Grand Isle on Sunday, Monday is dedicated to educating the teachers on LDWF fisheries management as well as the scientific procedures that go on at the lab.
On Tuesday, the teachers start learning about coastal restoration. Barataria Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) staff lead an exploration to a maritime restoration project, which was a successful mitigation project between Port Fourchon and BTNEP. After this field experience, they tour Port Fourchon to see first-hand how industry and the environment are working together to create a working coast.
Wednesday is spent learning about barrier island ecology and marine debris with a focus on plastics and the environment. Teachers complete a marine debris survey at Grand Terre and Elmer’s Island. Barrier island restoration is also a focus since Elmer’s Island was part of the largest restoration project in United States history in 2016.
On Thursday, the teachers travel by boat from the Houma navigation canal, which is a freshwater ecosystem, down the bayous to the saltwater marsh arriving at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) in Cocodrie. Along this journey, teachers complete water quality tests to determine dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity and turbidity and compare their results between freshwater and saltwater ecosystems. Teachers are also given the opportunity to investigate a floating marsh in freshwater and count the number of plants in a square area, which is called a plant transect. Upon arrival at LUMCON, they will do the same in a saltwater marsh and should notice that the freshwater marsh is much more diverse than the saltwater marsh. A tour of LUMCON then ensues.
Friday serves as a wrap-up day with a few more lessons before dismissal.
In the evenings, WETSHOP personnel take the teachers through activities that they can bring back to use in their classrooms.
“Most of these teachers are not going to be able to take their kids on a field trip to the southeast Louisiana coast, but they can certainly bring what they have learned back into the classroom and teach a phenomenon-based experience for their students,” LDWF Biologist Manager Heather David said.
Teachers are also encouraged to hold a six-hour stewardship project in their area, and if they do, they receive stipend money.
An example of these stewardship events include a Wetland night, where a teacher had her students produce exhibits about a wetland issue. Family and community members were invited, and the kids taught their parents and community members about wetland issues. Another example would be kids getting together and stenciling storm drains, enticing community members not to throw things down storm drains.
The cost of attending the conference is $50 per teacher; however, all meals and lodging are included for the duration of the week. Furthermore, all teachers receive a stipend and leave with much more than $50 worth of supplies to use in their classrooms thanks to our partners at BTNEP, CWPPRA, Department of Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy Camp and the Sea Grant College Program.
In fact, one of the common comments heard from teachers is they wish they would have brought a bigger bag to hold all of the stuff they get to take back.
“I never fail to be inspired by the passion that the week of WETSHOP brings out in everyone. By the end of the week you aren’t strangers, you are bonded by the week you have experienced. You walk in the land that is disappearing, you meet the people who have lost their history, you see the species who have faced habitat loss, it becomes very personal. You aren’t just reading about it, you are experiencing it. As a teacher, WETSHOP prepares you to bring that back to your students. You have a perfect phenomenon to use in your classroom, and all the resources you need to share it with your students,” said Christy Flynn, veteran WETSHOP volunteer.
“Hosting WETSHOP is a great opportunity for both the Fisheries Research Lab facility and staff and LDWF as a whole to be a resource for Louisiana teachers. I can’t think of a better way for us to help prepare students for current and future coastal challenges in Louisiana than to do our best to make sure that their teachers have access to every resource possible,” said GI-FRL Director Brett Falterman.
Making sure the teachers go home with the best information and resources so they can better instruct their students is what is important to LDWF staff and why personnel look forward to administering this event each year.
Teachers interested in attending next year’s WETSHOP can visit www.wlf.la.gov/wetshop or contact Angela Capello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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