Everglades Foundation honors two OCPS schools with Silver designation
Posted on 09/26/2018
A group of people holds a recognition banner

Millennia Gardens and Rock Springs elementary schools are the first OCPS schools to receive the Everglades Champion School Recognition Program Silver Designation.

“Both schools are considered Champion Schools because they embraced the heart of our program – to make Everglades literacy a core part of their learning culture,” said Jennifer Diaz, Everglades Foundation Director of Education. “We are so excited to recognize these two schools and what they have accomplished in one year. They will serve as examples for the entire state of Florida.”

The Everglades Foundation awarded five gold, eight silver and one bronze designation to schools in Broward, Miami-Dade, Orange and Palm Beach counties. Each school completed an application process that documented the Everglades initiatives in five key areas: professional development, curriculum integration, inquiry- and project-based learning, school leadership, and innovation.

Millennia Gardens identified one teacher in each grade level to attend an Everglades literacy workshop at SeaWorld. The teacher learned how to apply the state-aligned curriculum across all grade levels, and received a class set of lesson materials, like hula hoops, animal identification cards and handout activities, to make implementation easy.

“They are really good lessons aligned to the Florida standards. Students learn literature and science through interactive games,” said Joshua Garrett, a fifth grade teacher and Eco Club sponsor. “Our students live in an urban setting so they suffer from nature deficit disorder. They’re so removed from the environment that they don’t care about it. These lessons have helped them learn about ecology and conservation and that people shouldn’t just sit by and do nothing. Now when they see dead fish, they’re bothered by it. They understand green and red tide and are self-advocating for change.”

To introduce the STEM-based concepts, Millennia Gardens conducted a school-wide Everglades literacy day from Pre-K to fifth grade. The butterfly garden and a quarter-acre wildlife sanctuary that houses an Osprey perch, a frog pond and a Gopher tortoise habitat continually reinforce ecology lessons. Plus students in the Eco Club grow lettuce in a hydroponics garden that they donate to the SeaWorld manatee rehabilitation center.

Everglades Foundation recipients

“I’m proud of my teachers and their hard work. They do this on their own time and learn more to benefit kids. It’s a proud moment for me,” said Anne Lynaugh, Millennia Gardens principal. “This group constantly searches for things to benefit and engage our students. They’re a great resource to help other teachers and schools.”

At Rock Springs, Media Specialist Mary McGuire attended the Everglades teacher training in December 2017 and was “enthralled with the Everglades and the possibility of taking the lessons back to our students.” She collaborated with the science and English Language Arts coaches to plan and implement lessons through the library, reaching 93 percent of their students

Rock Springs also incorporated Everglades literacy into their Science Night and with a cross-curricular, project-based unit in grades 3-5. For example, fourth grade students conducted field studies at Lake Apopka to test the water quality and see first-hand the human impact on Lake Apopka. They aggregated the data and wrote a report on their findings.

MakerSpace students at Rock Springs researched black bears and interviewed a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist about black bears in their neighborhoods. They compiled their information into a video that won first place in documentaries at the Orange County Student Media Festival.

“We plan to continue our Everglades lessons through the Everglades Foundation and show our students how special our state is, especially the Everglades. We hope they will see the value of animal and plant life, as well as the importance of restoring and cleaning up the Everglades,” McGuire said. “Ultimately, we’d like our students to see the importance of conservation as it relates to the Everglades and their everyday lives.”

Both schools continue to incorporate Everglades education into this academic year. Millennia Gardens will conduct three school-wide learning days and Rock Springs started a 4-H Ecology Club that meets weekly to expand their ecology and conservation knowledge and community outreach.

“As the vital efforts of Everglades restoration takes center stage, it is important to recognize the key to long-term sustainability rests on the shoulders of the next generation. Educating the next generation of Floridians, coupled with the leadership and actions today is critical to the desired outcome: a restored and resilient Everglades,” said Diaz. “Students completing Everglades Literacy Program lessons will be able to analyze and prioritize issues affecting the Everglades, including those impacting its overall health and relationship to humans and community.”