Students Get Hands-On Training At Guana Tolomato Matanzas Reserve Through DEP’s LIFE Program

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Environmental Education this week presented the Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) program to Sebastian Middle School seventh graders at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) in St. Johns County.

More than 110 students took their classroom education outdoors, to investigate the coastal environment through a field-based, environmental-science education program.The students participated in three hands-on labs throughout the week, including performing a beach survey to measure and calculate the beach slope; measuring and comparing the sand grain size and composition at three locations; and measuring the direction and speed of water movement along the beach. Labs were facilitated by GTM Research Reserve staff and volunteers and assisted by seventh grade teachers and DEP Northeast District staff. Field sites included the Guana River Marsh Aquatic Preserve and Guana Beach.

“This program introduces middle school students to real-world applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at a critical stage in their education,” said Director of the Office of Environmental Education Greg Ira. “Encouraging our students to continue to study in STEM fields will have significant impact on their future employment and earning power.”

According to the National Environmental Education Foundation, environmental science jobs are expected to grow by 25 percent by 2016 – the fastest among the sciences.

The GTM Research Reserve LIFE Program is a partnership between GTM Research Reserve and the St. Johns County School District. The LIFE program is one of four core programs of the Office of Environmental Education. It currently operates as part of a statewide network of 20 school district partnerships with DEP and serves approximately 3,000 students and teachers per year.

“This program provides students the opportunity to conduct real-world scientific research in a locally relevant environment,” said Education Coordinator at the GTM Research Reserve Kenneth Rainer. “The idea is for students to take ownership of their work thereby giving them a sense of identity, inquiry, interaction, initiative, imagination, intuition and integrity.”

Next fall, Clay County Schools plan to develop their own LIFE program based on the requests of the students and teachers in St. Johns County.

Visit for more information on the Office of Environmental Education, STEM and our Planet.

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