Empowering Everglades Stewards

Posted on March 1, 2019

The Everglades Literacy Program has been taught to more than 3,000 teachers in the state since it was launched by its first grant from the Community Foundation of Collier County five years ago.

The Everglades Foundation’s program trains teachers in a standards-based curriculum to foster a deeper understanding in K-12 students of the unique and complex Everglades hydro-ecological system and raise awareness about issues threatening the nation’s most important wetland ecosystem. In essence, the future stewards who will be entrusted to preserve it are being empowered with knowledge and first-hand experience. “We know educating the next generation of Floridians, coupled with actions of today, is critical to the outcome—a revitalized and healthy Everglades,” said Everglades Foundation Director of Education Jennifer Diaz.

The Everglades Literacy Program began as a pilot project in Collier County with $15,000 in seed money from the Community Foundation for the development of lesson plans and course materials for the 2014-2015 academic year. The Everglades curriculum, created in partnership with Florida Atlantic University, is adaptable to science, civics, Florida history, and other fields. To date, 130 Collier teachers have been trained to take the curriculum in 41 schools, and it’s been established in 20 Florida districts, with a potential of impacting more than 100,000 students.

The course has provided field trips for 1,200 elementary school students and an advanced, five-unit high course has rolled out. The Everglades Foundation held a teacher-focused symposium attended by 80 educators in eight districts and launched an Everglades Champions Schools Recognition Program. Diaz’s team is analyzing teacher data on efficacy and outcomes to continually improve the courses and “to build national recognition,” Diaz said.

The region south of Lake Okeechobee supplies water for a third of the state, and the nonprofit Everglades Foundation works with federal and state agencies to ensure the multi-year Everglades Restoration project stays on track. This summer, the complexity and importance of the ecosystem the lake and impact of polluted water hit close to home—and made national news—following toxic algal blooms and unrelenting red tide that devastated sea life.

Katherine Caskey, director of leadership giving for the Everglades Foundation, said the Community Foundation’s early embrace of the education program’s importance has inspired ongoing collaboration and support for it. “People are in awe” of how it has grown and expanded, Caskey said. “We hope to have it for every student in the state of Florida. Where did it start? It started in Collier County.”