Nicholls students reawaken love for nature by teaching children

Nicholls State University graduate students Richard Grabert, Kyle Bird, Brandon Bergeron and Andria Ostrowski lead students to the beach, while flying the Nicholls’ flag Friday. Nicholls associate professor Gary LaFleur has been organizing this trip with The Nature Conservancy since 2010.

GRAND ISLE, La. — Nicholls State University Biology 575 students were able to visit Grand Isle Friday and take 20 elementary children on a hike to show the second and third graders how special their backyard is.

Associate Professor Dr. Gary LaFleur has been taking Nicholls students to Grand Isle since 2010 as part of a trip organized with The Nature Conservancy’s Jean Landry, Grand Isle program manager. The Nicholls students go down Thursday to scout out the hike and stay until Saturday, where by boat they explore islands including Elmer’s, Queen Bess and Fifi, which are involved in coastal restoration projects.

“I feel that whereas most academics requires a textbook and concentrated study, but there is also something to be learned by simply visiting a site,” LaFleur said. “You learn a lot by being there and seeing it with your own eyes. A field trip takes extra effort, but the reward makes it worth it.”

In addition to teaching the children about the Grand Isle ecosystem on Friday, the Nicholls students also tour a rare cheniere, or oak, forest, which The Nature Conservancy is preserving.

Nicholls State University graduate student Kellyn LaCour-Conant teaches students about the wolfberry, a marsh plant that she is studying as part of her master’s program.

“In the course (Environmental Diagnostics and Biomarkers), we are interested in healthy ecosystems and comparing them to ecosystems that have been impacted,” LaFleur said. “Looking at this forest is a rare opportunity to see an example of a healthy mature coastal forest. But also around Grand Isle are examples of impacts, for instance the BP oil spill, which resulted in oil spilling up on the coast.”

Nicholl’s Master’s Candidate in Marine and Environmental Biology Kellyn LaCour-Conant gave the trip to Grand Isle a 10 out of 10.

“This trip was especially rewarding since we were able to teach students about the wildlife in their own backyard and remind them how special their island is, ecologically and culturally,” LaCour-Conant said. “There’s a belief that in everything we do we should act in the best interest of the seventh generation to come — be good ancestors for them tomorrow by being good stewards of our world today. Sharing the value of healthy ecosystems with younger generations gives me hope for our future, which is pretty priceless.”

LaFleur said while the Nicholls students think they are going down to help the elementary children, the master’s students are in the end getting more out of the trip.

“There is a concept called Biophilia, coined by E.O. Wilson, that students are born with a natural love for nature, but it atrophies because we concentrate more on analysis in school,” LaFleur said. “Sharing nature with young people is rewarding for the graduate students because it reawakens their own admiration for nature.”


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