J.D. Floyd Elementary's environmental science program lets fifth- and sixth-graders learn every subject by seeing and doing.
By JOE BLACK
Published August 22, 2004
SPRING HILL - Typically, if fifth-grader Joseph Hernandez were to bring back a small lizard to his classroom, it wouldn't be the type of thing a teacher would cheer and praise him for.
But, when one of your classrooms is 18 acres behind the school, typical rules do not apply.
Joseph is one of about 300 students in the new school-within-a-school environmental science program for fifth- and sixth-graders at J.D. Floyd Elementary School. It's the first program of its type in the Hernando County School District.
Students interviewed during the first week of school said they liked the program and its focus on environmental science. They said it's cool to be able to see and touch what they're talking about, rather than just looking at pictures of animals and trees in textbooks.
"It's fun, so far," Joseph said. "We just started, but it's fun."
The 10-year-old smiled triumphantly as he clasped the lizard in his right palm and brought it back to the classroom. He had just finished a trek along the first path cleared by teachers in the program when he saw the little reptile out of the corner of his eye.
With help from friends, he was able to pounce on it. After the catch, he said he was ready to see what's next.
"There's a whole lot out there. I want to see what else I can catch," said Joseph, who was trying to come up with a name for the new class pet.
Joseph said he pushed his grandmother to enroll him in the new program because "it seemed really cool."
"You get to go outside. I don't want to sit around all day," he said.
Seen as a way to ease crowding at the county's largest elementary school, while drawing students from crowded Deltona and Spring Hill elementary schools, the environmental science program is housed in nine portable classrooms behind J.D. Floyd that back up to undeveloped land on school grounds.
Students rotate classes, similar to high school and middle school students. Fifty-minute lectures take place in the lot behind the school.
Taught by Charles Barrett and Leanne Blackwell, who hold degrees in environmental science, the students pace the trails already blazed and look at plants. Soon, the students will be allowed to decide where to clear other paths.
Barrett said parents can see how different the program is just by examining the list of supplies their children are asked to bring: sunscreen and bug spray on the first day.
Lesson No. 1 for the kids: What do poison ivy and poison oak look like?
"It's one of those "first things first' type of lessons for them," Barrett said.
Early instruction has focused on how people have affected the outdoor classroom over the years and just what might be hiding under some concrete slabs tossed behind the portable classrooms.
Soon, students will start learning about weather patterns, using Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley as a springboard for discussions.
School officials have put out a wish list of items they hope people will donate for future lessons. The list includes pocket magnifiers, hand trowels and cage materials for class pets.
Sixth-grader James Morizzo, 11, said he is looking forward to being a part of the environmental science program because he recently moved from Long Island, N.Y., and wants to learn about his new home.
After his first trek through J.D. Floyd's "outback," James said his goal is to be able to name all of the animals there and know what they eat.
"You don't see bugs like that in New York," he said. "I want to know why the weather is all weird, too."
He said that so far he had seen grasshoppers bigger than his hands and snakes for the first time in his life.
J.D. Floyd Principal Marcia Austin said environmental science will be fused into each subject.
For example, math teachers may use data from rain gauges to teach graph plotting. An English teacher may have students write about their experiences on the trails.
"It's a good way to get them learning in a different and interesting way," she said.
Coordinator Melissa Harts said the students will be taught to Florida Department of Education standards and that they will progress in their studies the same way all the other students do; those in the pilot program will just learn some of their lessons outdoors.
"You always have to find a new way to teach students and get through to them," Harts said. "If you can teach a student better by him catching a lizard, then that's great. At least he's learning."