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Sea Grant Engages K-12 Students in the Field

From the highly anticipated Wetlands Days series to a sensory-filled trip to the LSU Center for River Studies, Louisiana Sea Grant’s (LSG) Education and Engagement (E/E) team continues to deliver engrossing academic experiences.

Image: Sensory Education

Dani DiIullo, LSG Education and Engagement director, presents youths from the Louisiana schools of the deaf and visually impaired with a sensory-filled, 3-D model made of Play-Doh, depicting how the Mississippi River helped shape and form Louisiana. The field trip was to the LSU Center for River Studies in May.

COVID-19 restrictions and hurricanes prevented K-12 students from having field trips the past two-plus years. It also prevented the Engagement and Education team from participating in school events. But the team persisted – knowing the value of hands-on, place-based learning – and they used their time to apply for grants to fund educational opportunities.

“There are already so many barriers to schools going on field trips—buses, lunches, substitutes, missed teaching hours, curriculum alignment—that we wanted to help eliminate as many of those as possible,” said Dani DiIullo, director of LSG Education and Engagement. “That way, when students could participate in place-based learning again, we would be ready to help schools address some of those challenges.”

Each workshop this past academic year was a unique collaboration between the E/E team and teachers from participating schools. Lesson plans were tailored to meet each school’s needs and interests. This allowed students to actively learn from and in their environment. Schools from Plaquemines, Terrebonne, St. Bernard and Vermilion parishes participated in Wetland Days field trips close to their campus. Lessons included engrossing hikes, aquatic ecology, native vs. non-native species, sediment cores and water quality sampling.

“Wetland Days provided students an interactive science education that has often been absent in their educational experiences. Students are provided an opportunity to think about how the planet is changing and become stewards,” stated Jennifer Cook, LSG education coordinator. “Some students were even able to hold a live baby alligator which was an experience they will not forget.”

But not just Wetlands Days made a splash. Other fun and educational activities happened in East Baton Rouge.

Emily Maung-Douglass, LSG public engagement specialist, organized a field trip to Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Center for River Studies for the Louisiana School for the Deaf and the Louisiana School for the Visually Impaired. To create a unique and sensory-focused educational experience, Maung-Douglass collaborated with members of the E/E team, the schools’ teachers, as well as faculty and staff from LSU and the Center for River Studies.

“Most of the schools we’ve been working with either haven’t had a field trip since COVID, or it is their first ever field trip, which made it more special for us to deliver an unforgettable experience. Additionally, we know there are challenges such as accessibility issues for a lot of schools. Our team strives to create different, inclusive approaches that will bridge educational gaps,” said Maung-Douglass.

“The school systems and the teachers saw their students make physical connections to what was taught in the classroom. By exposing students to the environment in this manner, we showed them how everything is connected. Several of these schools have already asked us to come back next year,” added Cook.

The E/E team consists of DiIullo, Cook, Maung-Douglass and community science liaison Liz McQuain. For more information about LSG Education and Engagement, contact Dani DiIullo at [email protected].