SPRINGFIELD, La. – Elementary school students from Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes learned the importance of wetlands during Louisiana Wetlands Exploration Day on Nov. 29 at Tickfaw State Park.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students hiked through the swamp, saw and touched unusual animals and planted vegetation to help beautify the park.
The event is one of the major activities of the LSU AgCenter’s Youth Wetlands program, according to LSU AgCenter extension associate Mindy Brooks, who coordinates the program.
“They are learning about wetlands, but they are also learning about stewardship as they are planting wetlands plants at the nature center in the park,” Brooks said.
Students attending the event were from Amite Elementary Magnet School, Southeastern University Lab School and Christian Academy of Denham Springs.
“Each year we sign up teachers to receive the curriculum for the wetlands program,” Brooks said. “Then we invite those who sign up to participate in the field trips in their area.”
Other agencies are also invited to set up stations and provide related wetlands information.
At this event, Wings of Hope Wildlife Sanctuary of Livingston was probably the most popular stop for the students because of the unusual animals they brought to the event.
“We brought a short-eared owl, a broad-winged hawk, an umbrella cockatoo, an African sulcata tortoise, a green wood hoopoe, an African pygmy hedgehog and a hairless rat,” said Gabriel Ligon, education coordinator for the sanctuary.
The sanctuary rehabilitates native and exotic animals and uses them in their education program.
Activities for the students included a hike through the swamp, a tour of the nature center, hands-on activities with the different animals, a lesson on how the wetlands act as a filter for water and the planting activity.
“With budget cuts, the parks can’t buy plants, so we help them out,” Brooks said.
The wetlands event works well for the teachers also because the students actually get to see what they are learning in the classroom.
Karen Lowery, a fourth-grade teacher from Amite, said none of her students had ever been to the park, so she wanted them to explore the wetlands and to see how close it is to where they live.
“We’re studying the swamps and the wetlands, so this is the perfect opportunity to have them so up close to nature,” Lowery said.
Dutchtown High School 4-H junior leaders demonstrated how the wetlands can filter water to make it clean.
The youth wetlands program offers young people an opportunity to learn about wetlands and the environment through a hands-on approach, said Mark Tassin, LSU AgCenter state 4-H program leader.
“We like to call this our outdoor classroom, where youth get to touch, feel, experience and ask questions of experts in a field of expertise that they may not have an opportunity to experience in a classroom setting,” Tassin said.
Four stations focused on different aspects of the wetland environment: plants, animals, water quality and animal adaptation.
Aallyah Perry, a fourth-grade student at Amite Elementary, said she learned that if we cut trees in the wetlands, some animals won’t have homes.
“I also liked playing with the alligator head inside,” Perry said.
Parks program consultant Erin Sullivan said this is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
“We get to see these students, help educate them and then hopefully they’ll return with their families and become state park people,” Sullivan said.
The 4-H youth wetlands program is funded by the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration and administered through the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H youth development department.