Shaking Hands with Forest Park
a comprehensive learning experience. Teaching their students to fish, for example, also provides the teachers an opportunity to discuss aquatic ecology, food webs, water quality and the connection of people to nature.
Teachers begin the Academy with a complete immersion in Forest Park and its resources. They first learn practical details about the park, such as where the bathrooms are, and where 150 students can get drinking water. Teachers are then sent to secluded spots in the forest where they can immerse themselves in the sights, sounds, smells and feel of nature without being distracted by people. The teachers are asked to record their impressions and feelings by writing or drawing in a nature journal.
"I didn't like the journaling idea at first, but this is different," said Meri Ellen Brooks, an eighth-grade language arts teacher. "It's not about writing or drawing; it's about creating something. I get it now."
With these experiences fresh in their minds, teachers begin the more practical work of learning how to teach in the park.
A River Runs Through It
The Academy examines the relation of three Forest Park ecosystems - lakes, riparian areas, and forests - to the recently redeveloped River des Peres. On the second day, teachers visit the Conservation Department's Forest Park lakes to study aquatic ecology. Missouri teachers can reserve these lakes for aquatic educational field experiences for their students.
Using kits provided by Forest Park Forever's Eco-lab, they can test a body of water's pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate and phosphate levels, and temperature. They can use the Eco-lab's dip nets and search for aquatic macroinvertebrates. They can even fish in the well-stocked aquatic education lakes and taste a sample of fried fish. The Department can help organize such events and provides a free instructional resource book, "Fishing for Answers."
On Day 3, teachers go to the river to study the riparian areas up close. They investigate riparian plant and animal communities in the park, and learn how those compare with other riparian areas.
The focus of Day 4 is urban forests. Teachers learn about Kennedy Forest's history and its importance in the park's watershed. They measure trees and evaluate the health of the forest. Kennedy Forest, a hotspot for migratory birds, also is an excellent place for teachers to hone their birdwatching skills.
The Academy program is much more than "a walk in the park" for these