Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Day at the Beach a Natural Thing Jekyll Island Center Devoted to Teaching Children Coastal Ecology

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Day at the Beach a Natural Thing Jekyll Island Center Devoted to Teaching Children Coastal Ecology

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, Times-Union staff writer

JEKYLL ISLAND -- Kelly Jo Scott led a small parade of North Georgia fifth-graders across the sand to the water's edge on Jekyll Island on Tuesday.

Gathering them around her, Scott briefed the youngsters on their mission: "Pick up whatever you think is cool, and then we'll have a shell and tell." And with those words, the children raced off in search of seashells, washed up seaweed and other things left behind when the tide went out.

A day at the beach is more than just fun and games for school children from throughout Georgia and neighboring states who come to the Jekyll Island 4-H Center and its Tidelands Nature Center.

Scott is among 14 environmental education instructors at the center, which is devoted to giving children a chance to experience and learn first hand about Georgia's unique ecosystem.

"What we do best is offer things that students can't do in a classroom. Kids need to be out and involved in the environment to really understand and appreciate it," said Donna Stewart, director of the 4-H Center.

The Jekyll 4-H Center -- part of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension Service -- is among the largest residential environmental education programs in the nation, authorities said.

Katie Simers, 11, was among 25 fifth-grade gifted students from Hickory Flats Elementary School in Canton who arrived Monday for a three-day field study program at the 4-H Center. On Tuesday morning, the youngsters -- along with their parent and teacher chaperones -- used seines and nets to capture marine creatures in the surf along the beach.

Their next stop was the dock, where the youngsters used dip nets and a plankton tow to scoop up tiny invertebrates and other organisms to study under microscopes back in the center's laboratory.

"It's been really fun so far. I liked the dock studies better than the beach because I didn't get wet on the dock, and there are all these really neat little things to look at from the dock," Katie said.

Marie Mouchet of Alpharetta, who was one of the parents accompanying the students, also gave the program high marks.

"It's been a wonderful field trip, and I've really learned a lot, too," Mouchet said. "We've done the marsh ecology and the astronomy night walk, too. The kids really enjoyed that."

Meanwhile, tourists were checking out Bob the live loggerhead sea turtle, fish and non-venomous snakes in exhibits at Tidelands Nature Center, where visitors can explore the island via guided nature walks as well as kayak and canoe trips.

"We sent our three kids to Disney World with their grandparents and we came here," said Carol Bohannon, a Lawrenceville seventh-grade science teacher who was visiting the nature center with her husband. "I'm thinking of bringing my students here next year for a field study trip."

An estimated 10,000 public and private students annually from Georgia, Florida and four other states attend the environmental education program at the Jekyll Island 4-H Center during the school year from September through May, said Stewart, who's worked at the 4-H center for 13 years.

"We'd like to do more with the public schools in our area," Stewart said.

About 3,000 students also attend the center's summer camp each year. In addition, the Tideland center, which is open to the general public, has logged about 22,000 visitors since it opened in July 2000, said Dawn Zenkert, assistant program director. …

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