Manatees, dolphins and birds, oh my!

Manatees, dolphins and birds, oh my!
Fifth graders from Brookview Elementary line the seats of a water taxi on the Southbank Riverwalk

St. Johns Riverkeeper partners with DCPS to give students hands-on experience in environmental science

Brodie Hartman, a fifth grader at Brookview Elementary, couldn’t think of a better birthday present than to finally take a boat ride on the St. Johns River.

“I’ve never been on a boat or plane, ever,” he said. “I expect it will be both fun and nerve-racking at the same time. It is fun to do something new, but scary because I’ve never done it before.”

Hartman was one of 5,900 students from 72 Title 1 public schools in Duval County to participate in a special field trip over several days to provide on-the-water learning experiences through the STEAM Cultural Passport Program during the 2016-2017 school year.

Sponsored by the St. Johns Riverkeeper and Duval County Public Schools, with additional funding from CSX and the Edna Sproull Williams Foundation, the program allows students from low-income families to learn about the river by taking a water taxi from the Friendship Fountain Park, while making several stops along the river over approximately two hours. While on board, the students rotate through a series of educational activities that correlate with state standards and focus on river science.

Looking over the rail of the river taxi are fifth graders Brodie Hartman, Jalia Santiago and Gaby Persaud of Brookview Elementary School.

Looking over the rail of the river taxi are fifth graders Brodie Hartman, Jalia Santiago and Gaby Persaud of Brookview Elementary School.

“Our goal is to get every student out on the river,” said Jeffrey Smith, director of arts for Duval County Public Schools.

The STEAM Cultural Passport is a DCPS program that provides Title 1 elementary school students with three to four educational field trips per year. Each trip is connected to programs in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics. Organizations are selected through an application process. The program is currently funded through federal dollars.

Hartman’s school took advantage of the program Nov. 1, which was, coincidentally, his birthday. It is the second year DCPS has partnered with the Riverkeeper to give children who might not otherwise have an opportunity to get a view of manatees, dolphins, and river birds up close. The students used water-quality monitoring equipment, gathered and interpreted water-quality data, recorded observational data on manatees and dolphins, examined river plants and animals for adaptations that enable them to thrive in the river ecosystem and used their water quality data to make predictions about the future of the St. Johns River.

Hartman said he was happy to go on the field trip because learning about the river is important. “When you don’t take care of the environment you can endanger animals and other species, and that can endanger you because we rely on them,” he said. His classmate, Jalia Santiago, agreed. “It is important to protect the river because its animals are a big part of the environment and some of them benefit humans,” she said.

“The kids see downtown Jacksonville, JaxPort and Exchange Island,” said Emily Floore, an education director for the Riverkeeper. “So many of these kids have never had the opportunity to experience the St. Johns from the water,” she said. “They especially loved seeing the stadium from the river. It’s the most recognizable thing on the river for these students. I love working with the students, getting them outside on the river and allowing them to experience science hands-on.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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