Learning About Nature Program
Purpose of the LANP
A major part of JAS's educational outreach is the Learning About Nature Project (formerly the Wetland Learners Project). It was envisioned as a way of reconnecting young people with nature. Without direct experience of the natural world and a personal relationship with natural ecosystems, they have no way of understanding or reason for caring about flora, fauna and other forms of life and the complex processes making life possible. They are also less likely to engage in conservation and preservation efforts, and to choose sustainable lifestyles.
The LANP began in spring 2006 and has provided field trips for nearly 8000 elementary and middle school students, teachers, support staff and parent chaperones. Project director Sandy Sanders has engaged a wide range of partners to grow the project into an integral part of targeted curriculums, especially sixth grade science, in the Lawrence Public Schools. Recent changes in science standards have moved the main emphasis on environmentally focused content from sixth to seventh grade. However, understanding human impacts on natural ecosystems remains a focal point in sixth grade. Therefore, the LANP is engaged in efforts to provide field trips for both sixth and seventh grade students.
The majority of LANP’s Environmental Education events over the past decade have taken place at the Baker Wetlands. With the opening of the Baker Wetlands Discovery Center in fall of 2015, the BWDC Education Coordinator, Dr. Roger Boyd, assumed responsibility for all EE events at the Baker Wetlands. The LANP now has a support role for field trips to this location.
The LANP also partners with Dr. Bob Hagen, University of Kansas instructor for Field Ecology classes. For the past five fall semesters (2012-16), Environmental Studies undergraduates have learned how to develop and implement activities teaching sixth and seventh grade students about aquatic ecosystem ecology. These events have become part of the Field Ecology curriculum and take place at Potter Lake on the KU campus.
The project has also engaged students through other partnerships. For 4 years (2008-2011), the LANP partnered with Anthea Scouffas, Engagement/Education Director for the Lied Center, to create EE field trips for second grade students, as an extension of performances with themes related to the natural world. In addition, the LANP partnered with parent committees formed for science enrichment at Wakarusa Valley and Broken Arrow elementary schools. This led to field trips for most students at each school over the course of two years (2010-2012). Sandy has consulted with many others wanting to launch EE efforts, and taken KACEE training to become a trainer of teachers.
Fieldtrip Format & Facilitators
Although formats do vary, during a typical LANP field trip, students are engaged in 5 activities for 20 minutes each. The main focus at all field locations is primarily on various elements of natural ecosystems, especially wetlands and other aquatic or semi-aquatic environments. Facilitators for activities have included biologists, botanists, herpetologists, ornithologists, geologists, entomologists, and other scientists. Artists, writers, dramatists, yoga teachers and others have also facilitated activities engaging students with wetlands flora and fauna through a variety of modalities. Of the nearly 400 facilitators who've participated, some are engaged as an outreach of their professional lives, others are retired scientists or educators, many are simply well-informed nature-lovers, and, especially in recent years, most are university students majoring in environmental studies or natural sciences.
Funding is an ongoing necessity. More teachers would like their students to benefit from EE fieldtrips. The greatest expense is bus transportation, although other costs include a wide array of specialized equipment, instructional materials, identification keys, journals to record observations during fieldtrips, and small stipends to encourage and show appreciation for involvement. Businesses, organizations or individuals wanting to contribute financial support or participate in fieldtrips in some way may contact any JAS Board of Directors member, including Sandy, through the “Contact” tab on this website.
Sources of Financial Support
The LANP has provided all field trips—well over 100, so far—free of charge to the public schools, thanks to many benefactors. Funding for bus transportation and other needs has come from JAS, grants and contributions. Essential sources of financial support, provided either directly or through partners, have included the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund; Lawrence Schools Foundation; Lawrence Breakfast Optimist Club; Community Mercantile Change Program; KU Center for Civic and Social Responsibility; Kansas Arts Commission; Kansas Green Schools Grant Program; The North Face; and individual contributors.
Support Through Ongoing Involvement
Special appreciation for essential ongoing involvement at various stages of the project goes to all JAS Board of Directors members, with special recognition to Chuck Herman, Rex Powell, Jim Bresnahan and Jennifer Delisle; Bob Hagen, in his many roles related to the project; Roger Boyd and Jon Boyd, in their variety of roles at the Baker Wetlands; Kansas Biological Survey scientists, including Bill Busby, Scott Campbell, Paul Liechti, Jerry deNoyelles, Debbie Baker, Sharon Ashworth, and LeeAnn Bennett; KU Environmental Studies graduate assistants Anna Kern, Laurel Sears, Victoria Walsey, and Drew Cleary, and intern Ginger Werp; Kaw Valley Heritage Alliance Executive Director Alison Reber; Kaw Valley Heritage Adventuring Director Bob Burkhart; Lied Center Engagement/Education Director Anthea Scouffas; KU Center for Science Education intern Melissa Forester; KU Environs’ Education Committee members; UKanTeach students and staff; Haskell Indian Nations University Aquatic Ecology class instructor Adam Blackwood and students; most-dedicated-facilitator Stan Roth; most-versatile-facilitator Angie Babbit; and—last, but certainly not least—all Lawrence Public Schools teachers and science coordinators involved in the project.
Sandy pays additional tribute to the positive and pervasive influence of Dr. John Strickler, former Executive Director of the Kansas Forestry Service and co-founder of the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education, for his dedication to EE and spreading his passion, knowledge and skills through countless exceptional efforts over the past 60 years. Beginning in the 1970s, his training of teachers to become environmental educators has led to countless EE endeavors, including the LANP. Sandy and countless others cannot thank him enough for his influence in our lives and in the field of EE.
Success Due to All of Us
The LANP is evidence of the fact that all of us together are more effective than any one of us alone. Thank you to every person who has had or continues to have a role in making this project the successful endeavor it has become on behalf of young people, as well as the natural ecosystems sustaining them and needing their protection.
Students look for macro invertebrates during a Learning About Nature class, above. A field trip to Potter Lake on the KU campus, below.