Kids in the Woods, All Grown Up

Former Westwood Middle School students Andrew Baker and Kody Brock were in sixth grade when they first met Assoc. Professor Dr. Michael Andreu during a field trip to Loblolly Woods Nature Park in Gainesville.

Andreu, whose appointment at the University of Florida’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences (SFFGS) is part teaching and part extension, led Brock, Baker and their whole class on an adventure in the woods that was designed to teach them how to identify trees and plants, study bird behavior, and about forest ecology. The outing was part of the Kids in the Woods program.

“The Kids in the Woods program is a collaboration between the University of Florida’s School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences, the USDA Forest Service, the Alachua County School District, the city of Gainesville’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, and the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department,” said Andreu.

It was Andreu and Annie Hermansen-Baez from the USDA Forest Service who co-founded and launched the initiative with grant funds awarded in 2013.

The program mission is, “To expose students to careers in natural resource fields and increase their knowledge of the scientific method while providing outdoor learning experiences among children in the Southern United States in general and more specifically in Alachua County, Florida.”

According to Andreu, all the program requires to be successful is a partnering teacher and access to a wooded area that is on or adjacent to a school such as a park and with a nearby stream or water body.

There are several modules involved in Kids in the Woods. First, students learn about trees, birds, and ecology, next, they learn about measurements and how to conduct research, and finally, they go out in the field and put those skills in action.

“When we go into a classroom and teach a module, “I get to see what teachers experience daily,” Andreu said. “Some are inquisitive, some have behavioral issues. But take those kids outside, and you’ll see this amazing shift. Troublemakers who can’t sit still get involved and become part of the positive energy of the class.”

Since its inception, the effort, which was awarded a “Good Neighbor Award” in 2019 by the Nature Center Commission and an “Outstanding Award” by the Florida Urban Forestry Council, has engaged hundreds of Alachua County students and even sparked careers choices in some.

Brock said she was 12 years old when she participated in Kids in the Woods.  “Several times throughout the spring semester, UF students and Dr. Andreu would come during science class and we would go to Hogtown Creek Park for bird ID and tree ID lab,” she recalled. “I’m happiest being outside in the woods.”

Baker said he spent a lot of time in the woods in Oregon as a kid visiting relatives. “Every other summer for the past 8 years we would go to Oregon for the summer where my father teaches a marine biology course,” he said.

There was something about those trees, he said. One year he asked for a tree of his own. “I wanted a tree for Christmas,” Baker said about a request he made at age 10. So that Christmas he was gifted an Eastern Red Cedar sapling and, after letting it grow in a various planter pots over eight years, he planted it in the yard where it now towers over him.

Both Baker and Brock, who graduated from Gainesville High School in 2020, agree that the time they spent in Kids in the Woods had an impact on them and their future careers.

Almost a decade later, Brock and Baker found themselves in Andreu’s college classroom enrolled in the FNR 3131C Dendrology and Forest Plants course.

Brock graduated Cum Laude on May 5 with a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation. Her area of interest is in Lidar, imagery, taking forest inventory and tracking forest health. Eventually, she wants to be a research professor working with satellite, possibly with NASA or a land grant university teaching graduate students.

Baker received his Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation and said he plans to head out to Oregon or the Washington to look for a job with the U.S. Forest Service.

Andreu said he remembers working with both Brock and Baker on those Kids in the Woods experiences.

“They were in our first cohort,” he said. “It was clear that Andrew was already interested in trees,” he said. “And Kody she was a go-getter who was tough and interested and had no fear asking lots of questions which she still does today.”

For more information about Kids in the Woods, contact Dr. Michael Andreu at and watch the program video here. Curriculum for the program is available online.



Posted: June 26, 2024

Category: Academics, EVENTS, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Kids In The Woods, School Of Forest Fisheries And Geomatics Sciences, Timber, Undergraduates

Subscribe For More Great Content

IFAS Blogs Categories