RICHMOND HILL, Ga. – Discovering frontiers outside of the classroom – or the home – can reconcile traditional learning methods and enrich the educational experience for students inundated with an array of new concepts.
On Nov. 21, approximately 30 home-schoolers and their parents journeyed through J.F. Gregory Park in Richmond Hill, Georgia, on a free wetlands tour jointly sponsored by the Independent Learning Network, based in Savannah, and Savannah District’s Regulatory Division.
The scenic tour offered a glimpse into the Corps’ regulatory practices which include preserving and protecting Georgia’s wetlands.
Corps biologists Donald Hendrix and Shaun Blocker navigated the group through walking trails and wetland banks. They educated the students on wetland areas, measured water salinity levels, and the explained stipulations for impacting Georgia wetlands.
The tour also offered insight on identifying aquatic organisms and differentiating uphill and wetland soil qualities.
A stop at the park’s observational tower offered a panoramic view of the wetland areas. There, the Corps guides explained the impact of previously managed rice plantation on tidally influenced wetlands.
“I didn’t know that if it rains in the fresh water, the fresh water will flush down the salinity towards the ocean,” said 17-year-old Tim, of Midway, Georgia. “And if it dries, the salinity will get flushed towards the fresh water.”
Hendrix championed the outreach event as a proactive opportunity to spread goodwill and positive sentiment among stakeholders in the community.
“Bringing awareness to our program all starts with outreach,” said Hendrix. “Community engagement is essential because most people are unaware of the Corps’ permitting program. If we don’t spread our message they’re not going to know that their actions may result in a violation. To mitigate any future ill will, we must educate our younger generation so they’ll learn to respect these systems.”
Educational field trips are vital components of The Independent Learning Network’s mission to support a network of independent learners who achieve academic excellence and meaningfully contribute to society, said Maria Williams, ILN business director.
“We coordinate these trips as a public service to enrich learning for our home-schoolers,” said Williams. “We may seek out uncommon trips or trips that may furnish future careers, but the ultimate goal for them is to have a better appreciation of their community.”
Field trips are just one component of a comprehensive list of services ILN offers to home-schoolers living in Coastal Georgia counties, said Williams. Additionally, the network offers free tutoring services and academic testing, lesson plan assistance, family coaching, and parent-teacher workshops among other services.
ILN partnered with the Corps to expose students to Corps projects and foster appreciation through understanding of the Corps’ relationship with the community, said Williams.
“I’m fascinated by what the Corps does,” said Williams. “The students’ home away from home is their community and it’s imperative that they understand the Corps’ impact on industry and infrastructure here.”
Hendrix noted that the outdoor experience encouraged inquiry and exploration among the students who were eager to understand Corps processes.
“The children assimilate the information so quickly and easily,” he said. “It’s great that they can fully immerse and soak in the experience.”
Members of the Savannah District’s Regulatory Division regularly visit local area schools, said Hendrix. The team has participated in notable local events such as Earth Day at Forsyth Park, Megagenesis at Johnson High School, and Coastal Wetland’s Day in Savannah.
“Promoting STEM careers is a vital component of our program,” said Corp’s biologist Sarah Wise. “It’s important to reach kids in our communities to let them know what we do and the careers we have available.”
The long-term benefits of their outreach program are evidenced by the fan mail they receive from students, said Wise.
“Some of our presentation materials are so popular that the kids immediately recognize them when we visit,” she said. “They’re attracted to interactive models and become more interested to learn what we do.”
The students, whose grade levels ranged from first to 12th grade, were all residents of Bryan, Chatham, Liberty and Effingham counties, according to Williams.