The Wetland Watchers service-learning project was started during the 1997 – 1998 school year as a way to utilize our beautiful Louisiana wetlands as an outdoor classroom where students could be fully immersed in science while learning about the many values of our wetlands and the many challenges that they face. We adopted a small tract of land to improve it for our field studies and to attempt to keep it from washing away. Our first step was cleaning out all of the trash and appliances that people had dumped in the area. Some of these items included refrigerators, clothes dryers, sofas, and many car parts. I merely wanted to have a place to bring my 150 students, but as word spread many other teachers and parents wanted their students involved as well. We became a whole school project and quickly started including other schools throughout our district. As we expanded to include more students, it was apparent that the community was excited about what was happening as different agencies, organizations, businesses, and colleges enthusiastically offered their expertise, time, and resources. We currently have solid partnerships with over 35 different organizations. Student activities include planting trees, water quality testing, picking up trash, and working on what will be the first public nature trail in our area. My students use the knowledge they gain from working with experts on these trips to lead wetland trips for younger students. Our students currently work with students from 18 other schools through facilitating field experiences and science night presentations.
Students become community leaders as they host weekend community trash clean-ups, and tree plantings. We started presenting what they learned at other schools, festivals, and other public events. Students have spoken directly to over a million people across Louisiana about wetland issues. The small tract of land we adopted was included in 28 acres of land donated to our project by the Pontchartrain Levee Board seven years ago, including the 2.5 acres of land we rebuilt back to the 1976 shoreline through our partnership with community leader Milton Cambre, local industry, and the St. Charles Parish Government. This year we held the grand opening of Wetland Watchers Park. Through grants and donations we have 8 picnic pavilions, a huge grand pavilion, an incredible outdoor classroom, along with nearly 1,000 feet of boardwalk nature trails built by volunteers. My students will create all of the interpretive material for the trails to be used by locals, tourists, and other students throughout the region.