Learning is not just for the classroom

Friends of Florida State Parks has three main missions – to protect and preserve our award winning state parks; to make them as accessible as possible to all; and to promote environmental education.

It is the last of these missions that I would like to focus on.  For many years, Friends groups and volunteers have assisted rangers in providing environmental programs for visitors and especially local schools. A day in the park, while still great fun, does provide a very real learning experience and thousands of schoolchildren have benefited from them.  Programs are tailored to meet each school’s particular core curriculum needs and conform to the STEM initiative.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and is a nationwide effort to encourage students to take an interest in these subjects at an early age. Now we have a new acronym – LIFE – and it signals another exciting step in FFSP’s development and commitment to our parks and environmental learning.

LIFE stands for Learning In Florida’s Environment and FFSP aims to make every state park an open air LIFE lab and classroom and utilized by all the schools around it.

The LIFE program is a statewide science-based educational program developed by the Department of Environmental Protection which Friends of Florida State Parks has agreed to take over. We are committed to maintaining the programs in those parks already offering it and providing training so that other parks can become LIFE partners as well.

The goal is to increase student achievement in science, strengthen teacher capacity for inquiry-based instruction, increase underrepresented groups in the STEM fields, and increase access to and stewardship of state parks.

We aim to build long-term partnerships with schools and teachers to ensure the programs continue. We will promote the use of real-world technology and promote physical activity. Children will experience hands on inquiry-based learning and multiple field experiences and the programs will provide real-world opportunities for students to integrate a number of subjects.

The LIFE program has been running successfully in a small number of state parks. Now begins the task of growing that number by steadily expanding the program throughout Florida. It will take time, a lot of organization and a significant amount of funding but it is a goal worth chasing.

The LIFE program could help Florida produce new generations of scientists, engineers and mathematicians and at the same time, introduce thousands of schoolchildren to the wonders of our fabulous state parks.

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