Into the wild: Inspiring Collier County students to become environmental stewards

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:

Collier County students are stepping into the outdoors as their classroom, to learn about the unique ecosystems here in Southwest Florida.

Under the canopy of Big Cypress National Preserve, Pine Ridge Middle School students get their feet wet while learning about the different facets of life in the preserve.

From water and soil to weather, animals, and vegetation, Big Cypress Outreach and Education Coordinator Lisa Andrews helps make it all happen.

Andrews said, “It’s the most beautiful place in the world. That’s why I’ve been here so long. It’s not scary. It’s not slimy. It’s not smelly. The water is crystal clear.”

The hope is the experience goes beyond a single day and this preserve, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.

Ryan Westberry is the secondary science coordinator for Collier County Public Schools. He said, “Well, you know, for a lot of kids, this is their first and sometimes their only experience getting out and actually stepping foot in the water.”

“A lot of these kids haven’t been off the pavement and out into a wild area like this,” Andrews explained. “So I think once they do, and they see how just incredible it is and how much they learn. They’re going to hopefully take care of it after we’re all gone.”

For future field trippers, Pine Ridge Middle School student Jordyn Zivich-Weissman has a piece of advice, “The water… they’re probably going to be super, super nervous, but it’s actually a lot of fun. That’s probably my favorite part about this trip.”

The field trip is a partnership between the preserve, the Alliance for Florida’s National Parks, and Collier County Public Schools.

And adults can get in on the fun too. The Alliance will host its “Wine & Wildlife 2022” event on Tuesday, Feb. 22, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Naples Sailing & Yacht Club to raise money for Florida’s national parks.

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