Fighting Poverty with Passion
Greetings from the forest! I’m Carly and I’m one of the new additions to the Tulane Center for Public Service AmeriCorp VISTA program. I am lucky enough to work with Woodlands Conservancy, an environmental non-profit on the west bank that manages, conserves, and rehabilitates over 800 acres of forested wetlands. This land is one of the largest storm buffers for the city of New Orleans, as well as a critical habitat for wildlife and an awesome spot for hiking.
It has been a whirlwind summer so far: graduating from Tulane, moving into Deming, jetting off to Pre-Service Orientation (PSO) in L.A., getting to know my new roommate, and starting my VISTA position! The best part of this summer has definitely been changing gears at Woodlands Conservancy. My situation is a bit different than some of the other VISTAs, because I had been working at Woodlands for a year before starting my service term. I first got involved through an undergraduate service learning internship and then continued to work there part time during my senior year of college.
This year I’ll be expanding our Seeds to Saplings environmental education program into schools in Orleans Parish. Seeds to Saplings is a service learning partnership that aims to teach elementary school students the function and value of wetlands over the course of seven lesson plans. For the past few school years Woodlands has worked with various 4th and 5th grade classes in Plaquemines Parish, and those teachers have reported higher science LEAP test scores in students that complete the program versus their peers.
In order to prepare for the upcoming school year, I took over teaching and coordinating the Seeds to Saplings Program for the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center Summer Camp in Phoenix, Louisiana. This was the first year we’ve partnered with ZTCC and a lot was riding on it going well. Their camp has a strong emphasis on environmental education, so our program was a perfect match for their curriculum. We did have to make some adjustments from our traditional program because of time constrictions and their location. For example, instead of planting saplings at our site, which is a bit of a trek from them, we made a ‘native garden’ around their camp and churchyard. Additionally, we shortened the program to five lessons and had an end of summer picnic to celebrate completion of the program.
The students were absolutely awesome! I just finished up grading their post-tests and it is really exciting to see how much they’ve learned—and they aren’t the only ones! Through this experience I learned some very important lessons about working with children: flexibility is key, try to incorporate their interests, and always bring bug spray. I can’t wait to get started on the upcoming school year!