Dec 14

Conservation through the Eyes of a Child

The conservation of our world’s most valuable resources will involve young and old alike, working together to create, adopt and carry out a long-term plan to protect our planet. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay has long been an advocate for wildlife and wild places, granting over 8 million dollars to conservation efforts all over the globe with its SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Now the organization is taking this commitment one step further by joining forces with the students from the Cahoon Elementary Magnet School of Animal Science. The “Conservation Matters” project is the first of its kind and presents a wonderful opportunity to see some of the world’s greatest challenges through the fresh and optimistic perspectives of our children.

Shellie J. Kalmore, Busch Gardens Education Manager, has shared six of today’s most pressing conservation issues – along with current projects actively working to resolve them. She’s excited to give this new generation of problem-solvers a voice. “It lets children know they can make a difference,” she said.

With the guidance of Cahoon’s educators, students from Kindergarten to fifth grade are exploring some of our world’s most urgent environmental needs and gaining enthusiasm, excitement and understanding of current, ongoing conservation projects.

Avoiding a Cat-astrophe

“The kids can tell you how many cheetahs are left in Namibia,” said Miss Vanderkratts, a Kindergarten teacher at Cahoon. With less than 10,000 cheetahs left in the world, it’s an issue that kids care about. Busch Gardens has helped to strengthen the children’s appreciation of these rare animals by sharing the heartwarming story of their orphaned cheetah cub named Kasi. Since male cheetahs prefer to live in coalitions with their other male siblings, Kasi was in need of a lifelong companion. Busch Gardens was able to supply one in the form of a young lab-mix puppy (Mtani) adopted from a local shelter. This unlikely pair has become fast friends - and a favorite of the children. Students are charting the growth of Kasi and Mtani weekly - and gaining an appreciation for the unique challenges that today’s cheetahs face. Students are also creating and selling Christmas ornaments - and then donating all proceeds to Africa’s Cheetah Conservation Fund.

Sea-ing things in a New Way

First graders are learning about the plight of the Walrus and the work being done by the Alaska SeaLife Center. Students were visited by renowned Marine Mammal Specialist Dr. Lori Polasek and given the opportunity to ask questions about the latest field research. Cahoon educators promote this type of hands-on learning style and have demonstrated the effects of insulation by having children participate in a blubber experiment. “If there’s a purpose for learning, the children learn so much better,”said Teacher Miss Foley. First-graders have also created a life-sized paper mache walrus and globes to indicate the areas of the world where the species can be found.

Photo Courtesy: Mokolodi Education Centre

Empowering the Next Generation

Having a love of nature may seem like a given, especially at this school of animal science, but second graders are learning that’s not always the case. Even though Africa is home to some of the most diverse animal species on earth, most of the children that live there reside in the city and have never had the chance to see an elephant, lion or buffalo up close. Students at Cahoon are learning about the work of the Mokolodi Education Centre, and organization in Botswana that provides African children with the opportunity to attend camps with native animals like Zebra, Giraffe and Hippopotamus roaming the land all around them. Since the children of today will become the leaders of tomorrow, it’s important for young people to realize that all of life is connected. Second graders at Cahoon are doing their part to make this a reality by creating "e-books" that the educators at the reserve can share with local children to help teach them about the history of the land and the animals that live there.

The Bat-tle for Survival

Ms. Hemphill’s third grade class is studying bats and has the benefit of having bat-houses on school property. Since the animals are nocturnal, they’re rarely seen - but the houses have captured the interest of the children and opened up the conversation. Halloween also presented the perfect opportunity for Hemphill to dispel some common myths about the much maligned creatures. “Most people think of vampire bats but we were able to talk about just how important bats are to the environment,” she said. Students are also learning about the concepts of echolocation and hibernation.

Birds of a Feather

Another benefit of this innovative program is its multi-media presentation. All of the classrooms are equipped with “smartboards” that help to stimulate the children’s senses and engage them in the material. Fourth graders studying the wetlands “loved the videos of flamingo mating dances” said teacher Miss Henofer. Since each grade level is studying a different conservation project, students have taken a sense of ownership over their particular animal of focus and are brainstorming ways to help them. Children in the fourth grade are currently conducting a long-term investigation on the effects of pollution on animal behavior.

A Deeper Understanding

Fifth graders are applying a personal touch to their exploration of the Oceans. Students studying the coral reef were encouraged to formulate their own questions, such as “How do the coral reefs get their color?” and then research the topic. This approach helps children to learn to organize information and encourages their natural sense of curiosity.

The Conservation Matters project is an example of taking environmental education to the next level by fostering the attributes of caring, global awareness, and personal empowerment. It’s an exciting prospect that may not simply benefit the students at Cahoon Elementary - but quite possibly the world.