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Community Partners Enhance Environment Education of Youth in Manatee County

AME on Nature's Field Trip Academy

BRADENTON – On May 29th, Nature’s Academy teamed up with Manatee County Parks and Recreation and United Park Services to host a field trip for Anna Maria Elementary at Coquina Beach.

“Over 700,000 people live in the Sarasota Bay watershed and impact the estuary,” said Dana Pounds, while addressing fifth grade students from Anna Maria Elementary. Binoculars in hand, the students looked out upon the water encircling the barrier island they call home.

Pounds, co-founder of Bradenton-based nonprofit, Nature’s Academy, delivered visual and tangible lessons to the students, deepening their understanding of the local natural history and ecology. The Anna Maria Elementary fifth graders also grasped a sense of stewardship after collecting over fifty-eight pounds of litter from Coquina Beach.

The field trip was hosted through a partnership between Nature’s Academy, Manatee County Parks and Recreation and United Park Services. Thanks to this collaboration between a nonprofit company, a government entity and a private corporation, these children were granted an invaluable educational experience at no cost to their school.

Of course, Anna Maria Elementary is only one of the sixty-three Manatee County public and charter schools. Thus, Nature’s Academy has launched its Adopt-a-School Program, which seeks additional community sponsors to support annual field trips for local schools. As businesses support local schools, not only will they help enhance the education of our future workforce and decision-makers, but also demonstrate the power of community connectivity.

Why are field trip programs necessary?

The process of experiential learning, or learning by direct experience such as through an outdoor education program, has been revered across the nation as a viable means to enhance classroom curricula. Studies from the State Education and Environmental Roundtable (SEER) show that 92% of students exposed to outdoor educational programs academically outperform peers from traditional classroom programs.

Score results for the 2013 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), in the areas of writing and third-grade reading and mathematics, were posted by the Florida Department of Education on May twenty-fourth. Causes for concern arise as scores show 51% of Manatee County third graders missing the mark in reading and mathematics. Recent fifth grade science scores for FCAT are still pending release, however 2012 results show 58% of Manatee County fifth graders lacking proficiency in science.

As public school budgets continue to dwindle, how can we help teachers enhance classroom learning?

Manatee County, situated near a coastline that harbors a rich array of habitats and history, provides ample educational opportunities for local students. Nature’s Academy began the Island Adventures Project, which employs grants, donations, and sponsorships to deliver inquiry-driven field trip programs to local public schools free of charge.
Since 2009, the project has impacted over 4,500 local fifth graders and removed over 3,000 pounds of litter from nearby shorelines, including Coquina Beach at Anna Maria Island. In addition, over 80% of participants have demonstrated academic gains through pre- and posttests conducted during each field trip program. The long-term goal of this project includes annual field trips for all Manatee County fifth graders by 2020.

For more information on Nature’s Academy, visit www.NaturesAcademy.org. To learn more about its Adopt-a-School Program, please contact jessika@naturesacademy.org.


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