(June 6, 2012) -- The fourth-grade class of Eva Dominguez can tell you all about biomes and tree rings. They can even tell you what sustainability is and why it's important. The Lackland City Elementary class just wrapped up a yearlong series of science lessons, brought to their classroom by UTSA undergraduates and graduate students in environmental science.
The program, dubbed Educating Youth in Ecology (or EYE), comes at a critical time when district budgets are tight and field trip money is at a minimum. It is funded by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S.D.A Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants program.
"Ninety-four percent of Lackland City's students come from economically disadvantaged homes," said Janis Bush, UTSA director of the environmental science academic programs, associate professor of environmental science and director of the UTSA Teaching and Research in Environmental Ecology (TREE) program.
"We developed the curriculum ourselves with the fourth grade students in mind," Bush said. "A lot of what we taught them was entirely new to them."
For the last five months, 11 UTSA students traveled to Lackland City Elementary each month to teach the bilingual fourth graders about the environment. The UTSA students used a variety of hands-on activities to teach their key topics, which included plant parts and pigments; tree types, sizes and growth; forests; natural resources; conservation and sustainability.
"We talked about the wildlife and about the different biomes of Texas -- the different ecological areas of Texas. Boy, they really got excited talking about all the different birds and mammals and reptiles," said Chad Sundol, who just earned his bachelor's degree in biology at UTSA.
The same day, Anna Boeck, a UTSA doctoral student in engineering and environmental science, brought speakers to the classroom and played the sound of a leopard frog to engage the kids.
Over the course of the semester, the class read and discussed "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss, planted honey mesquite tree seeds and measured their seedlings.
"I can't say enough about how rewarding this has been for us to see them so excited about us coming and excited about learning," said UTSA alumna Jennifer Guerrero, who just completed her master's degree in environmental science and will begin her doctoral studies in cell and molecular biology at UTSA this fall. "Hopefully, we're getting them thinking about a university education now. That's another goal. It's a lot of hard work, but we do have fun."
UTSA will take the EYE program back to Lackland City Elementary this fall.
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