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  • County’s Environmental Education program helped local teacher land national fellowship

    May 16, 2019 | Read More News
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    The Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland are a long way from Pima County’s Agua Caliente Park, but when Svea Anderson travels there this fall, her students and the educators they worked with at the east Tucson park won’t be far from her mind.

    Anderson, who teaches sixth grade at Agua Caliente Elementary School in the Tanque Verde School District, won a prestigious Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship with National Geographic that will take her in September to study the geology of Newfoundland. She credits snagging that fellowship to the work she and her students have done for the last four years at Agua Caliente Park as part of the Wetlands Wildlife program offered through the Environmental Education and Interpretive Programs within the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department.
    Svea Anderson
    Environmental Education offers about a dozen field trips and classroom programs to students from elementary school to high school, linked to Arizona Academic Standards.
    The Wetlands Wildlife program, she said, led her to become a certified educator with National Geographic. “This project and the impact it has had on my students over the years was my capstone project,” Anderson explained. 

    She reflected on that experience in her application for the Nat Geo fellowship. Out of hundreds of  applications, hers was accepted. She’ll be one of 45 educators from across the country and Japan to go on a Lindblad Expedition.

    When she was in Washington, D.C., this spring for training, Anderson said several of the National Geographic application scorers approached her and wanted to know more about the work that the students were doing at Agua Caliente Park. 

    “It is now well known with the Nat Geo educators,” she said.

    Every year, Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation offers K-12 field study school programs in Pima County parks and preserves. For example, students can learn about plants and pollination in the “Pollinator Survey” course. They can explore the fascinating lives of bats in a “Bat Research Simulation.” Or, in the case of Anderson’s students, they made the monthly, one-mile trek from school to Agua Caliente Park to run a scientific study of a wetland habitat as part of the “Wetland Wildlife Habitat Field Study.”

    “I love the idea that they are participating in real science, that their data goes back to Pima County and that they are participating in citizen science,” Anderson said. “What an opportunity!”

    Axhel Munoz teaches the Wetland Wildlife class, as well as several other classes, within the County’s Environmental Education curriculum. He’s helped Anderson’s students collect data, identify plants and use GPS.

    “The students LOVE Axhel and being outside,” Anderson said. “They really get a sense of pride and ownership at the park. This is their backyard. It is pretty special.”

    This fall’s fellowship will enable Anderson to look at plastics in the ocean, climate and ocean current relations, and how native peoples have adjusted to the loss of the fishing industry. They are lessons she plans to take back to her eastside classroom.
    Agua Caliente students with Pete Filiatrault
    “I want my students to see science in action, to ask questions, to try to solve problems. I am also going to be speaking to them about climate change and how people are adapting.”

    Anderson, who has been teaching for 20 years, spent last summer as a PolarTREC educator at Toolik Field Station on the north slope of Alaska’s Brooks Range. She worked with a researcher from the University of Alaska Fairbanks doing ecological research as part of a program funded by the National Science Foundation. She’ll return there this summer, soaking up more knowledge and experience to share with her students. 

    It’s likely all of those experiences played a role in her securing this fall’s fellowship. Yet it’s the County’s Wetlands program that she singles out for praise.

    “Honestly, I owe this opportunity to the Wetlands program,” Anderson said. “It has been an incredible opportunity to get my students out and into the field and to do ‘real’ science. Axhel is a phenomenal educator and the students are naturally drawn to him and his vast knowledge of nature.”

    Learn how to connect your school with Pima County’s Environmental Education and Interpretive Programs at 520-724-5375 or email them HERE.