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Earth Day Every Day Heroes: The Roy Hyatt Environmental Center

The live birds and reptiles are a huge draw for visitors to the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center! Photo credit: Molly O’Connor

One of the lesser-known assets of the Escambia County School District is the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center (RHEC). Begun in 1968, the center moved to its present site on Tobias Road in 1980, on land acquired from the federal government.  Two teachers on special assignment, Molly O’Connor and Adam Bretschneider, manage and teach at the facility during the school year. Every day, they welcome 2nd and 5th graders for creative, hands-on science lessons that bring to life the concepts students have learned in class.

The mission of the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center is to “assist students in mastering science concepts and processes through the integration of science disciplines in studying the environment,” and for students to “come to know the natural world as a complex system that must be cared for.”

Students on a field trip to the RHEC investigate pitcher plants along a trail. Photo credit: Molly O’Connor

The recipient of two IMPACT 100 grants, the Roy Hyatt Environmental Center is finalizing construction of a new building to house animals, labs, office space, and a classroom. The facility also includes a large covered pavilion used for outdoor education (and lunchtime), and a maze of boardwalks through pitcher plant bogs and hardwood swamps. The pond is full of life, and used for lessons on water quality and microscope use. A butterfly gazebo and bird bus are utilized for observing winged creatures.

While on field trips to RHEC, 2nd graders study everything from beach life, birds, and butterflies to insects and reptiles. Fifth grade students love the geocaching scavenger hunts, vertebrates, geology, and ecosystem studies. During this unexpected time away from school during the COVID-19 epidemic, the RHEC teachers have even begun a series of YouTube videos highlighting the natural wonders of the center so kids can experience them from a distance.

The RHEC is not open to the public on a regular basis, but holds open house events like the annual “Night of Nature” to allow the community to experience the natural wonders of the property.