Even Grade School Children Can Have a Voice!
Twenty-two years ago in a classroom in a SW Miami-Dade County, a group of fourth and fifth grade students were studying all about the Florida Everglades. The children learned the history, science and importance of the Everglades through hands-on activities. They participated in Field trips to Everglades National Park, Shark Valley and Royal Palm, the Global Re-Leaf Walk-A-Thon, planting sixty-five trees, a butterfly garden and natural hammock at their school, Howard Drive Elementary. They read stories about Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of ‘The River of Grass’ and found out that she was almost one hundred years old - they were inspired by Marjory’s lifelong devotion to protecting and preserving the Everglades. Their teachers, Marta Whitehouse and Connie Washburn approached Marjory’s group, Friends of the Everglades and asked if Friends was interested in sponsoring Young Friends. The board invited some Young Friends to come and visit Marjory in her little cottage in Coconut Grove. Soon the whole school got involved and made a huge ‘105th’ birthday card for Marjory. Three students and their teachers visited Marjory and told her they ‘wanted to save the Everglades’ – Marjory’s response: ‘That’s good because they aren’t saved yet!’ Then she turned to Marta and me and told us: ‘Take the children into the Everglades and they’ll learn to love it!’
But soon, the Young Friends learned of a proposed theme park called ‘Wayne’s World’ – location, the Everglades in Western Broward County. Even though most kids really love theme parks, Young Friends members, now also called ‘Marjory’s Echo’, were opposed to its location on a site needed for wetlands restoration. Club members studied and learned and began to understand that the Everglades needed their help even more. The animals were losing their habitat. The air and water was constantly being polluted. The original area of the historic Everglades had been reduced by half causing animals and plants to lose their habitat. The Florida Panther (mascot of Young Friends) was now endangered with less than one hundred left in the wild. As Marjory wrote in her book, ‘There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known. They are unique also in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose.’
And so they did, students made pictures, posters and slogans and the Miami Herald came and interviewed us to see what this was all about. We went on camping trips in Everglades National Park, were contacted by ‘Nic News’ and did a segment educating students nationwide about the wonders of the Everglades. Wayne’s World was never built and we like to think that the awareness Young Friends caused may have played a small part in keeping a theme park out of the Everglades.
During the 1993-1994 school year, the founders created a variety of educational environmental projects to generate awareness for the need for protecting buffer zones around the Everglades. Friends of the Everglades has had an educational outreach program as a result of a County Grant for over twenty years. Tens of thousands of Miami Dade County public and private school children have participated in a water conservation program and Everglades education. If is our belief that numerous children have developed an awareness of and love for natural places like the Florida Everglades the source of drinking water for six million people in South Florida. Hopefully, this awareness has continued into adulthood.
Connie J Washburn
Friends of the Everglades, president