It was a conference in which attendees relished the chance to bug each other – bug as in insects – and nobody minded in the slightest.
In fact, the Spring 2017 Mini-Conference of the League of Environmental Educators in Florida (LEEF) at the Florida Conservation and Technology Center (FCTC) proved to be a big success, both for an organization whose commitment to the environment aligns with TECO’s and for FCTC in its first full year as a free resource for the public. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Suncoast Youth Conservation Center sponsored the event, with FWC a partner with Tampa Electric and The Florida Aquarium in the overall FCTC effort.
The bugs, incidentally, were part of the conference snack buffet: baked bugs, chocolate-covered bugs, bugs embedded in lollipops. As unsalted, crunchy treats, the baked bugs were surprisingly tasty (though that’s as brave as this writer was willing to be).
The main course, however, was a full serving of classes to help approximately 60 environmental educators from all around Florida engage the public, including children, with the wonders of habitat protection, outdoor recreation, knowledge about Florida’s unique ecosystems and much more. The event was hosted at FCTC’s own marine science education facility, the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center.
“Everyone’s enjoying our experience at FCTC, which is this marvelous example of partnership,” said Dolly Cummings, mini-conference chair and past president of LEEF as well as manager and director of Camp Bayou Outdoor Learning Center in Ruskin, Fla. TECO team members have donated their time and energy at Camp Bayou as well as raised money to help it grow; on March 18, Cummings traveled up the road to Apollo Beach to see LEEF help grow the profile of FCTC, which is just to the south of Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center.
“Our goal is to go beyond reinforcing the importance of things like recycling and habitat protection,” Cummings added. “We want to help people expand their views about where they’re situated in the larger scope of the overall environment and to immerse themselves into thinking about new ways to spread the word about how much natural Florida matters and how valuable it is to everyone – even those who may not think of themselves as environmentally minded.”
Dr. Kathy Guindon, director of FWC’s Suncoast Youth Conservation Center, welcomed LEEF with an overview of the center and FCTC in the morning and helped coordinate a session in the afternoon to give educators guidance in teaching archery.
“I’m definitely in my element around environmental educators, and Saturday was no different,” she said. “What made it even more special was knowing that the curriculum covered at the LEEF conference will go to not only inspire the next generation to care about natural Florida, but it will help instill a sense of ownership and pride to want to protect it. Of course, it also makes more people aware of FCTC as a free and amazing resource for the community that’s like no other place in West Central Florida.”
Learn more about environmental education programs, including for children, including summer camps, at FCTC. And visit Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center before the end of our 30th anniversary season, through April 15!