Educating for our future! 2018 Best Chapter Education Project Award

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
November 2018

Audubon Florida presented the Best Chapter Education Project of the Year Award to our chapter at the Audubon Assembly on October 20, 2018.   This was our fifth award our chapter has received in the last four years and 12th for the last 16 years. This award was for our multifaceted education program to educate our whole community about conservation of our paradise. Our educational goal is to provide folks of all ages with a science-based understanding of local natural resources and restoration practices that safeguard the health and vigor of these environmental resources. All our programs relate local conservation to our goals for Education, Advocacy, and Public Awareness.

Children oriented educational programs:

Audubon Advocates afterschool program
  • The 3rd year of an outdoor- science, afterschool Audubon Advocates program focused on 104 5th graders and their parents from four underserved elementary schools. We get students into nature to learn to kayak, photograph, sketch, and understand habitats, the role of seagrasses, mosquitos, snakes and birds. The students and their parents tell us that they now spend more time together in nature. This was witnessed by the number of families coming to ‘their’ Audubon House on weekends and holidays to explore/show off the classroom, the native gardens, and walk the trails. The students felt proud to show and teach their parents what they learn.  This experience is encouraging these students to be strong advocates now and in the future!
  • A free monthly weekend family program for these same students, parents and family members focuses on the importance of the outdoors, volunteerism and conservation.
  • The 5th year having 4×4 square foot (vegetable and pollinator) gardens at local schools, and have established with partners two Garden Clubs at Vero Beach Elementary and Oslo Middle School.
  • Our 3rd summer adventure camp, ages 10-17. The first week was made up of 13-17-year-old Junior Guide candidates (from the Hope for Families Shelter) that learned leadership skills, kayaking, first aid, and team building skills who then volunteered for the following four camp weeks to assist the Outdoor Educator.

Adult programs: We offer many courses in environmental education for the public:

  • Intensive Birding and an eBird class involving 10 course hours and 2 field trips, 33 adult participants, 2 instructors, and 12 volunteer guides
  • ORCA Volunteer Nature Stewardship Course includes eight 3-hour classes and ongoing activities for participants with nature walks at local nature reserves and a native-plant propagation workshop. PIAS volunteers lead walks from November-April, performed trail maintenance, helped control invasive plants, and released air potato beetles for further research.
  • North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Census, event including 2 educational presentations: Butterfly Identification Census Procedures and Butterfly Gardening with Native Plants, 46 participants, 1 instructor;
  • 16 Monthly meetings are educational, with guest speakers in Sebastian and Vero Beach. We also initiated 3 winter meetings at the Audubon House to reach new audiences.
  • Birding and Nature Field Trips. This season we are collaborating with the Indian River Land Trust to offer 41 field trips.
  • Our monthly newsletter, the Peligram mailed and on our website: Ties all our programs together, and educates our membership. We print, mail, email, and place on our web site: The President’s advocacy “Hoot,” bringing issues to the community’s attention, A Photo-of-the-Month on a bird species, A nature personal experience column, advertisements and descriptions of our program schedule and news and opinion on local, state and national conservation issues, including pictures of our Audubon Advocate students.
  • Citizens Science Projects:  Osprey monitoring, Jay Watch, Eagle Watch and Spoonbill Watch programs
  • Conference, “Transforming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future. ” Second conferencewill be on Feb 2, 2019.Educating how to plant their own yards and community in native plants and why it will aid our health.
  • Greenhouse Project Initiation: to grow native plants including trees for birds and teach adults and students plant propagation.

We have laid the foundation for our student advocates program for next and future years. Through our student programs we help improve their science vocabulary scores in their school classes, particularly the scores for female and minority students. We can also measure success by the funding support we have received. Indian River County School District continues to be a significant partner in our afterschool programs. To fund these educational efforts depends upon membership funds and substantial grants from:

  • The Indian River Lagoon Council National Estuary Program ($25,000),
  • The Indian River County Children’s Service Advisory Council ($20,000) requiring academic achievement growth.
  • John’s Island Foundation $35,000 for a 15-passenger van to transport students from school to Audubon House and on field trips, as transportation is essential to get students involved.

Education is essential for us all in the community to learn how we can work together to protect our health, conserve our environment, so our waters and lands will be clean and environmental habitats will encourage wildlife that is the basis for not only our pleasure but the basis for our economy and future of our community. The future depends upon all of us working together, collaborating with other organizations so that they too can be involved to protect our waters and to ‘green’ the whole county, to attract wildlife, preserve habitats, reduce water and energy use, and by preventing pollution into the environment by non-native plants that require heavy use of pesticides, fertilizers and water.  A major educational effort will be needed to make this year’s “100,000 Trees for Life” program successful, and help everyone understand how to plant and care for a tree and our environment; how trees sequester carbon, reduce temperatures in our communities, and save our precious water.  Trees being highly visible and life producing will help educate the community for us and bring many out into nature.

With the show of confidence that many organizations have demonstrated in our education and outreach programs and in our all-inclusive programs we will expand our efforts to reach more students of all ages. Audubon House is a key piece in our community providing a special opportunity, demonstrating how people and nature can thrive and work together.  Our major goal continues to be to provide Indian River County residents – especially students and their families’ – education opportunities to explore our natural world so that everyone can work together and make intelligent choices for the future.

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