Allison Baldwin knows many of the students at Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena likely will never have the opportunity to experience the wetlands around Galveston Bay.
“We don’t have as ready access to the aquatic environment that a lot of the students down in Galveston do,” she said.
The same can be said for Hailey Louviere’s students at Dr. Kirk Lewis Career & Technical High School, also part of Pasadena ISD.
“A lot of them, they’re not going to leave the Pasadena and Houston area,” Louviere said.
That’s where Wetland Connections comes in.
A signature component of the Galveston Bay Foundation’s education curriculum, Wetland Connections is a year-long program that connects students in grades 6-12 to Galveston Bay through a series of classroom STEM workshops. In these workshops, students learn about the importance of Bay animals, human impacts on the wetlands, and how to become environmental leaders who take action in their community.
The program culminates in a spring field trip to a local wetland on Galveston Island where students become scientists in the field and use the skills they learned throughout the year to study the environment around them.
It is the students’ favorite part of the program, according to Louviere, whose class is participating in Wetland Connections for the second time.
“They talked about it so much after the experience,” she said.
Spots in Wetland Connections are limited, and schools must apply to be considered for participation in the program. Seventeen schools from across the Houston metro area were selected this year.
Mini wetland habitats delivered to each school campus are an integral part of the program. Each pond contains several stems of native smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) that students study throughout the year by gathering both quantitative and qualitative data. The number of stems in each pond can double or even triple, and at the conclusion of the program, the plants are used in Galveston Bay Foundation’s marsh restoration projects.
Delivering ponds to schools is just one of the many touchpoints Galveston Bay Foundation education team members get to have with students.
“We start to create relationships with them and actually see that ownership that they’re taking in their wetlands and see that change in them,” said Megan Sambilay, an Education Coordinator with the Galveston Bay Foundation.
Louviere sees the change in her students, as well, especially when they get out in the field.
“The way they are in the classroom and the way they are out there is completely different,” she said. “I feel like they’re so much more involved in it.”
While Baldwin said her students don’t particularly enjoy getting dirty, the hands-on approach to learning about environmental science through Wetland Connections creates a more engaging experience for them.
“Anything that they can actually put their hands on is hugely beneficial to any student,” Baldwin said. “Because now that they’re using their hands, they’re so much more engaged and they actually want to learn about what they’re doing without even realizing it.”
Seeing her students begin to understand and care about the need to conserve and restore wetland habitats is what the program is all about for Louviere. “Having that lightbulb moment for them is so great,” she said.
Donor support helps Galveston Bay Foundation staff bring programs like this to thousands of students every year. Our vision is for all children in the greater Houston-Galveston region and beyond to have the opportunity to experience nature and be transformed through learning to become good lifelong stewards of the environment.