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Pilot project connects kids to wildlife

By Staff | Oct 6, 2012

A re ducks actually interesting? And are flamingos really from Florida?

The answers are 1) yes and 2) no. You’d have no trouble with the answers if you attended recent classes at Patriot Elementary School, with “Ranger Becky” and “Mr. Lyons.”

Through the next week, more than 600 students in six school days will have been taken through a pilot project called called “Art Through Science,” and be engaged in the world of wildlife at Patriot Elementary School.

It is a pilot project with J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, combining numerous disciplines of education, said Patriot resource teacher Linda Grant. “Every student at our school has been engaged in this lesson. Everyone is on task, working and learning, among other things, about keeping our nation green, and respecting the environment.”

The project is spearheaded through the school’s art classes, and art teacher Chad Lyons. He holds the distinction of being Lee County’s longest employed art teacher.

“This is my 40th year teaching art,” he said.

His classroom is the focus for presentations by Ranger Becky Wolff, Florida Fish and Wildlife Service, Ding Darling. It is part of the Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program, where “Ranger Becky, ” captivates kids with her presentation on ducks, all types of wildlife and more.

The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program itself is a national dynamic arts and science curriculum that teaches wetlands and waterfowl conservation to students in kindergarten through high school. The program and its teachers incorporate scientific and wildlife management principles into a visual arts curriculum, with participants completing a JDS design as their visual “term papers.”

Patriot Elementary took it a step further, including every student in the lessons and activities.

Dr. Ruthie Lohmeyer of Lee County School District’s Parent Assistance Center observed several of the classes.

“What I’m observing is how Ranger Becky is integrating all of the disciplines into the art program,” she said. “That includes history, math, social studies and more. What I also appreciate is what she has brought up – the importance of wildlife in the state of Florida.”

Lohmeyer is a former principal at both the elementary and middle school levels.

“All of my students would have loved a program like this. And you never know how this will stimulate a career path for a student, and they are having a great time,” she said.

A great time indeed. Ranger Becky’s engaging personality keeps them interested and again engaged.

“I liked this a lot ,and I learned a lot about animals and ducks,” said Breeze Perez, 10.

One thing that was her favorite was feeling duck feathers Ranger Becky brought into the class.

Anna Costa, 10, said she also really liked the lessons.

“We got to see birds and learned how their body’s protect their wings, and how to draw a duck,” she said. “I also learned about types of birds that aren’t from here (Florida).”

When question-and-answer time came, most student’s hands went up.

“That’s my ‘light bulb moment’,” said Wolff. “That’s when a question comes up, I describe the answer, and a light bulb goes off when they understand it.”

She has a teaching degree from Ohio State, so combines her knowledge of wildlife with knowledge of teaching. Of the Duck Stamp Project, she said, “It was started 20 years ago by an art teacher in Sanibel, Jaye Boswell. She noted that Ding Darling was the ‘Father of the Duck Stamp.'”

Her lessons lead up to the final art project.

“Where we go from here is at their next art meeting, I will take them step-by-step through the process of designing the stamp,” said Lyons. “We’ll do drawings of specific ducks and then we will go into landscaping, painting, watercolor and how to produce a piece of artwork.”

The students then will have time to finish their designs for the March 2013 deadline for the contest.

“What this project does is help with our environment, integrate art and the environment, and it brings in vocabulary, science, conservation and how we can help. It teaches the child to take care of the environment.”

He said his students are very enthusiastic about the project and entering the final contest.

“What’s nice about this contest is that any child who enters will receive something.”

That may be a certificate or a ribbon, he said.

“It also enhances the art program, a prime example of why art in the schools is so valuable, such an intricate part of education.”