Thursday, February 23, 2012

Meet The Educators ... and Their Revisited and New Restoration Efforts

By Paul C. Focazio, Web Content Manager, New York Sea Grant

The educators taking part in this year’s southern Louisiana restoration and wetlands exploration run the gamut in terms of their experience – from high school teachers on Long Island and in New York City to instructors at the American Museum of Natural History and an environmental center in Queens. The group is being led by New York State Marine Education Association’s President Meghan Marrero and New York Sea Grant’s Long Island Sound Study Educator Larissa Graham.

New York Sea Grant’s Long Island Sound Study Educator Larissa Graham and New York State Marine Education Association’s President Meghan Marrero , pictured here in February 2011 during a plant propagation at the Wetland Plant Center in City Park.

In addition to her duties at NYSMEA, Marrero is an Associate Professor of Secondary Science Education at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry. This is her second Gulf trip, this time accompanied by two graduate students funded through a grant from the Mercy College Faculty Development Committee. Marrero holds degrees in biological science and science education and has worked as a high school teacher, curriculum director, and educational consultant. Her research interests focus on marine education, specifically in improving ocean literacy and also increasing teacher pedagogical content knowledge in the STEM disciplines.

Marrero co-led last year’s Louisiana trip with Graham, who has a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science and, after college, worked for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for a few years tracking lobster populations in Long Island Sound. In 2007, she received her Masters degree in Fisheries Science from Virginia Tech. Her research focused on bycatch in the horseshoe crab trawl fishery. After graduating, she began working at New York Sea Grant, teaching stakeholders about Long Island Sound.

“I’m especially excited to see how the restoration sites we worked on last year – with Louisiana Sea Grant and the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program – have progressed," says Graham. "I’m also looking forward to visiting new sites and areas that we didn’t have a chance to see last year, such as the Louisiana State Universities Marine Consortium.”

Last year, NYSMEA educators and NYSG staff volunteered with several dozen students from Andrew Jackson Middle School in nearby Chalmette, Louisiana at Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter's Wetland Plant Center (WPC) in City Park. The group - led by Caitlin Reilly, a Sea Grant extension specialist at LSU - propagated 2,700 strands of Gulf Bluestem (a wetland plant) and re-potted 320 Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass, a wetland plant), for future WPC restoration efforts.

The educators also spent a day on the Port Fourchon Maritime Forest Ridge for restoration efforts with Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP) staff, including Plant Materials Coordinator Matt Benoit. By the end of the volunteer activity, they planted nearly 800 salt matrimony vine tree/shrubs on the rather vegetatively bare ridge. These small, native evergreens have a high success rate in most soils and are also tolerant of salt spray and drought conditions. And, as the group learned first-hand, in the face of Louisiana’s unparalleled coastal wetlands loss, restoring rather bare ridge habitats such as this one into more maritime-like forests are vital because they serve as a refuge for many animals including the millions of migrating birds that cross the Gulf of Mexico in the spring each year on their way back to their breeding grounds in the eastern United States and Canada.

Educators on this year's trip will undertake, as Graham mentioned earlier, a mix of experiences from last year as well as some new challenges. Here’s more on the professional backgrounds of some of these educators, as well as some insights into what they were most looking forward to during this five day trip, in their own words:

Mark Barone (pictured in 1,above), High School Special Education Instructor, Hammondsport, NY

I took part in the Gulf Restoration 2011 trip. It was fantastic! Last year, I left the comforts of home in Hammondsport, New York (Currently, tied for 1st place in Budget Travels “Coolest Town in the USA” contest) to fly down to New Orleans, Louisiana. The nature of the volunteer work that we did (erosion control) was stimulating and gave me a clearer vision of the many good things that happen when people work together. NYSMEA’s leaders and members really bring the ocean literacy concepts to life. I sincerely believe that the work that we have started will endure in ways that are beyond what I may have imagined.

One objective that I have for this trip is to better understand the meteorological movement of air masses and formation of major storms. I would like to develop the skills necessary in order to take proactive steps toward protecting the natural environment of coastal Louisiana. Finally, I would like to share a dedication toward stewardship and science in learning about Earth’s precious waterways.

Dyan Freiberg (2), Educator, Alley Pond Environmental Center, Douglaston, NY

I grew up on Long Island, currently live in Manhattan and have worked as an Educator at Alley Pond Environmental Center in Douglaston, Queens since 2001. There, I teach students of all ages about the plants, animals and ecosystems that are found in the New York metropolitan area, and more specifically Alley Pond Park.

I have a Masters Degree in Elementary Education from Hunter College and a Bachelors in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin.

I’ve never been to Louisiana and consider the NYSMEA trip a wonderful opportunity for me to offer my help as a volunteer as well as meet new people.

Coleen Grant (3), High School Science Teacher, Centereach, NY

I have been teaching high school science for the past 15 years in the Middle Country School District at Centereach. After attending college at Long Island University Southampton, I got my teaching job and a park ranger job at Fire Island National Seashore. I worked for the park service seasonally for about six or seven years as an Interpretation Ranger. While there, I ran children’s programs and nature walks. It was wonderful teaching in the field.

Currently, I have started teaching a couple of new half year electives in Environmental Studies and Oceanography. When I saw the opportunity to be a part of this program, I was thrilled to share in this chance to make a difference. I love to travel and bring experiences back to my students. I had recently visited Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa and have incorporated many of my experiences in these two new classes.

Karen Matsumoto (4), Marine Science Education Coordinator, Seattle Aquarium, WA

I’m the project lead at the Seattle Aquarium in Washington State for the “Citizen Science” high school nearshore monitoring program and the Olympic Coast Ocean Science literacy program for fourth and fifth graders. I’ve worked in the field of conservation biology and environmental education for over 25 years. I love to share nature with children through art and journaling.

My connections with the New York State Marine Educators Association are through my participation in the Project Power Wetlands Education Program with Merryl Kafka at New York Aquarium as well as through my friendship with colleague NYSMEA President Meghan Marrero, who I met at the NOAA-sponsored Papahanaumokuakea Ahahui Alakai leadership Program on Midway Atoll.

Lauren Mahony (5), Student Teacher, Lehman High School, Bronx, NY

In addition to student teaching at Lehman High School, I currently attend Mercy College, where I’m pursuing a degree in secondary biology. It’s also the place I came to meet NYSMEA President Meghan Marerro. I mentioned to her that I would love to do some field work and so she suggested that I take part in this trip. I am a National Geographic junkie and Science Channel junkie so I’m excited to apply my knowledge to real life situations.

Elizabeth Platt (6), Science Teacher [AP Environmental Science and the Living Environment/Biology], Smithtown High School West, Smithtown, NY

Teaching is my second career. My first was working as a field biologist for the Nature Conservancy, identifying potential preserves throughout New York State and field checking rare plants and some animals. I love wetlands and spend a lot of weekend time birding in them with my husband.

I cover habitat restoration in my AP environmental science course. I try to get as much personal experience in all the topics that I teach. This wetland restoration project with NYSMEA and Sea Grant will help me to get closer to my goal. I hope to get my students and my Ecology Club involved in a restoration project on Long Island.

Tom Armentrout (7), High School Teacher, Bainbridge Island, Puget Sound, Seattle, WA

I currently teach 5 sections (144 total students) of Marine Science, a year-long elective for juniors and seniors at our public high school on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Our island is a 30 minute ferry ride due west out of downtown Seattle. I've taught for 25 years, starting with 5th-8th grade in a small rural school near The Dalles, Oregon.

Before teaching, I worked a couple seasons as a commercial fisherman off the Oregon and California coasts for Salmon and Tuna. I worked as a boatbuilder in Hood River, Oregon for 5 years. I was treasurer/secretary for the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME) association for two years. For several years I worked on a Marine Science curriculum dissemination project, and in 1993 I got to teach a two-day workshop for local school teachers on the Louisiana coast. I'm looking forward to re-visiting this amazing landscape inhabited by wonderful folks.

In my photo (pictured in 7, above; in yellow), I'm with my students on a marine science sailing research voyage in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound.

Russell Taragan (8), Education Department, American Museum of Natural History

I was lucky enough to visit Louisiana last year, and enjoyed the trip immensely. I am 29, and live and work in New York City. I have always loved science and nature, particularly marine science. My first memory from around age two is of walking on the beach looking at shells. The enjoyment and exploration of nature is most evident in my many hobbies including rocketry, microscopy, SCUBA, kayaking, and backpacking. These hobbies are all-consuming and highly addictive once you get into them.

In college I studied biology including ecology, conservation, oceanography, and microscopy. I was lucky enough to participate in marine research for several years, culminating in a trip to Italy for two weeks with a professor. I find myself torn between environmental education, and research. Accordingly, the best fit so far has been in informal education. This field is usually at the intersection of research, education, and conservation.

As part of The American Museum of Natural History’s Learning Experiences team, I currently work with students and teachers in outreach and professional development. About 80% of this time is with a program called “The Moveable Museum.” This program uses a museum exhibit on a large Ford Winnebago to visit schools within New York City in third to twelfth grades. Our exhibit is called “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” and is based on a temporary exhibit of the same name that was at the AMNH about 9 years ago. For more information about this program, visit us here.

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