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Portland Elementary Explores The Parklands

The SEED Program (Stewardship, Exploration, Education, Discovery) is the newest education initiative at The Parklands of Floyds Fork, working to create the scientists and conservationists of tomorrow. Throughout the year, Title I schools or other underserved youth organizations explore The Parklands to learn about the natural world and our connection to it. The SEED program strives to foster a sense of place and stewardship ethic while supplementing STEM education.

I received an eyewitness account of this program’s lasting impact by accompanying students from Portland Elementary on their SEED journey in Beckley Creek Park. This particular group had been to The Parklands in their previous school year, so they already had an idea of what they were going to experience. Before the adventure kicked off, Interpretive Ranger Olivia Wagner asked the group how they should behave on their hike in respect to nature. Everyone had the right idea, but my favorite answer from the group was, “by not yelling to harm the animals.” After all, wildlife deserves a little peace and quiet too!

 

First, Olivia led the eager group on Sycamore Trail. We stopped several times on the journey to learn about different parts of the Floyds Fork riparian ecosystem such as Sycamore trees, large yellow-green fruits on the ground that Olivia called monkey brains (a.k.a. Osage oranges) and the path of Floyd’s Fork creek. The group was especially curious about the monkey brains, but they were also inquisitive about how the creek winds through Jefferson and Bullitt counties eventually emptying into the Salt River.

  

From Sycamore Trail, the group dashed (and eventually splashed) down to a section of Floyd’s Fork to explore the creek. Everyone grabbed a small blue net and rolled up the bottoms of their pants to wade through the water in search of interesting finds. Fascination appeared on their faces as plants, mussel shells, and even tiny fish turned up in the nets. One of the students scooped up a monkey brain in his net and waved it around, showing off his grand discovery.

Kylie Stanley, a student sticking to the shallow spots of the creek, explained to me, “The only time I’ve been to a park like this one was last year.” I asked which one it was, and she exclaimed, “The Parklands!” Kylie really wanted to see a fox, and marveled when I told her about the deer pairs that I had recently seen on my hike in Turkey Run Park. 

     

After the creek was thoroughly investigated, the group headed indoors to the classroom at PNC Achievement Center where they paired their field experience with brainpower. In the classroom, the students learned about various environmental concepts that directly related to their experiences on the hike and in the creek. Six different stations provided activities such as fossil examination, states of matter exploration, and animal shell investigation.

      

A Whole New World

The goal of the program is to engage each participating class year-round. The group visits the park one to three times, and The Parklands Interpretive Rangers make a trip to the school at least once. SEED provides natural environment exposure for those underserved youth who may not have access to nature exploration otherwise. The Parklands hopes to reach 15,000 of these youth per year by 2022.

Interpretive Ranger Elizabeth Willenbrink believes the first-time experiences are what set The Parklands SEED Program apart from other field trips. “When my mom (a SEED partner teacher) brought her kids out here, she actually started crying because there were so many of them that had never gotten to do something like this,” Elizabeth said of a recent SEED field trip.

Many of the children that attend field trips at The Parklands have previously hiked trails, played in a creek, and observed environment and wildlife outside of the city limits. However, most students from participating SEED schools have a completely different level of prior exposure. For Elizabeth, witnessing some of these children fully engage with nature for the first time, and the expressions of excitement exuding from them, is truly rewarding.

The workings of science in the environment is undoubtedly taught in the school classroom; however, experiencing this science firsthand yields enduring effects. This program plants a SEED, one that will grow into an endlessly blooming opportunity for knowledge and exploration.

The Parklands recognizes and thanks those who have supported the SEED Program: Brown-Forman Foundation, Lift a Life, Norton Foundation, US Bank Foundation, PNC Foundation. We also recognize our 2020 classroom sponsors—John Moore/Butchertown Grocery and Kristen & Rob Mouser.

To learn more about the SEED program, contact Curtis Carman, Director of Education, at (502) 584-0350 or by email at ccarman@21cparks.org

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