Sixty-five students from Claude O. Markoe Elementary, St. Patrick’s Elementary, The Good Hope School and Sunny Isle Baptist gathered at the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge where volunteer educators greeted them with the news that the beach would be their classroom for the day.
Lynnea Roberts, an educator with SEA, said the day was just one of a series of field days planned for this school year.
“Our goal is to reach every second-grader,” she said.
Future field days will be held at the Southgate Coastal Reserve and Salt River to encourage schools closer to those locations to attend.
Roberts said her organization decided to focus on second-graders because their other major event targeting elementary students, the Earth Day Eco-Fair, is only for grades third through sixth.
She said the event allows them to reach a wider audience of students and instill a love and respect for the environment in kids at an even younger age. She hopes that love may even rub off on other members of their families.
“If we can get them out and they enjoy it, then maybe they’ll go home and say ‘Let’s go do that Mom and Dad. I want to show you the plants that I saw. Let’s look for crabs. Let’s look for seashells,’” Roberts said.
Educators from several organizations were at the event leading the kids through activities. Along the trail to the beach, a teacher from the Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge was having students compare and contrast the plants that grow there, while on the beach three members of the Nature Conservancy were leading a scavenger hunt for shells, seaweeds and sponges.
Two interpreters from the National Park Service introduced children to their stuffed mother sea turtle and had them explore the fake nest they’d dug on the beach. They walked the second-graders through the steps that real turtle researchers take while in the field, and each student got a chance to measure the model turtle’s flippers and shell.
Benito Vegas, a Park Service interpreter, told the children that only about 1 percent of sea turtles that hatch survive to adulthood. He said that these odds were long enough already, so people needed to treat sea turtles well and not make things harder on them. Vegas then talked to them about safe boating and camping practices to avoid injuring sea turtles and the importance of limiting the amount of trash that gets dumped into their ocean habitat.
John Farchette, an interpretive ranger with the St. Croix East End Marine Park, led another group of children on a hike along the mangroves, stopping every few feet to tell them a fun fact about every tree or bush or crab they passed.
Farchette said he enjoyed doing educational programs with children because they needed to learn at an early age about the impact human beings can have on the world around them and start thinking about ways the community can start treating the environment better.
“My generation messed it up. The generation behind me messed it up. The generation behind that messed it up,” he told them. “We’re counting on your generation to find a solution.”