Volunteering In Nature: Thank You Ecology and Natural Resources Program Volunteers!

A close up photo of students sorting little rubber toy sea creatures into categories.
Students in the LIFE program at Lemon Bay Park play a sorting game to learn about taxonomy, the scientific classification of living organisms.

Welcome back to the Volunteering in Nature blog series, where you can get an inspiring peak into the world of volunteering for the UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County Ecology and Natural Resources program! As we move deeper into summer and prepare for the year of programming ahead here on the ecology and natural resources team, we look to our past programs and their impact on the community. In reflecting and thinking about what we have been able to achieve, we are filled with gratitude for the volunteers who helped make these programs possible.

Volunteers Help Bring Critical Environmental Education Programs to Sarasota County Youth

UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County’s Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) program is one of those important and impactful programs made possible by the support and hard work of our talented volunteers. The LIFE program meaningfully engages fourth- and fifth-grade students in hands-on opportunities to practice science in the field, bringing school science curriculum to life. Participation in the program also supports student academic success, and models careers in nature and the sciences. As they explore and investigate the natural world during exciting field trips to public conservation lands in our county, a new generation of conservationists, scientists, nature lovers, and stewards of our Earth is created.

The LIFE program runs from fall through spring each year, and the 2022 season kicked off successfully with 243 students engaged at Myakka River State Park. Continuing with this successful trend, in 2023, 249 fourth- and fifth-grade students from three schools participated in a one-hour, in-class learning session and a three-hour, hands-on, field experience at Oscar Scherer State Park. The effort resulted in a student knowledge gain of more than 30% in topics such as ecology, botany, and water quality. Seventy-two percent of the students had the opportunity to visit the park for the first time, connecting them to a critical natural area that provides habitat for threatened species such as Florida scrub-jays and gopher tortoises.

Encouraging Interagency Collaboration in Our Community

Two silhouetted students stand at the edge of the Myakka River.
At Myakka River State Park, two students look out over the wild and scenic Myakka River.

Originally developed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2004, the LIFE program began as a partnership between a single park and school. Sarasota County’s LIFE program is now an award winning, collaborative program that brings several key agencies together, such as Oscar Scherer and Myakka River State Parks, Florida State Parks Foundation, Florida Sea Grant, Florida Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps, Sarasota County School District, and EdExploreSRQ.

Bus fees are often a barrier to being able to provide enriching, educational field trips for students. We are grateful to the Friends of Myakka River for assisting with providing essential funding for bus transportation to the LIFE program at Myakka River State Park. Title 1 schools will be given priority when considered for funding so that Sarasota County Schools’ students can have the opportunity to experience, explore, and learn within this outstanding natural area! If you are a fourth- or fifth-grade teacher interested in participating in LIFE, find more information here, and contact Dr. Katherine Clements (kclements@scgov.net) to inquire.

Looking Ahead

4 educators stand in front of a model watershed used to educate students, as they smile and pose back to back, with their arms crossed.
UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County staff and volunteers happily pose with the Enviroscape, an interactive model used to teach students about our watershed and the human behaviors that impact water quality.
A man stands with two youth in waist deep water as he uses a long poled net to search for marine life.
Mangrove ecosystems act as nurseries and safe havens for an incredible variety of marine life. Here at Lemon Bay Park, students search for critters.

For many, time is a precious gift and resource. We appreciate not only the unique talents, experience, and passion of our volunteers, and their willingness to be of service; but also, their decision to give their time to our team and the community. Their support helps ensure that we will be able to continue providing enriching experiences such as the LIFE program to students all over Sarasota County.

If you would like to share your time and experience and become a volunteer for the ecology and natural resources program, contact Dr. Katherine Clements (kclements@scgov.net) for more information.

Thank you to every volunteer who gave their time to make our programs possible. We appreciate you!

What To Look for Next in This Series

Follow along with the Volunteering in Nature Series to learn about what volunteers have accomplished this past year and read their inspiring stories.

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Zahir Ringgold Cordes, Environmental Education and Outreach Program Assistant for UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County's Ecology and Natural Resources Program
Posted: August 16, 2023


Category: Conservation, Events, Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Extension, Wildlife, Work & Life
Tags: Conservation, Environment, Nature, Pgm_EcoNR, Volunteering_in_nature


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