Story and photos by BEN GRAFTON
On Monday, Jan. 31 and Tuesday, Feb. 1 the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center at Nokuse Plantation, just east of Freeport, was host for visits by two groups of Florida state representatives and educators. On Monday Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Brad Drake visited the center and on Tuesday Rep. Marti Coley, Washington County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sandra Cook and Executive Director Patrick McDaniel of the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium were there.
Each group of representatives and educators was able to observe the educational offerings of the center in action as students from Bay County schools were attending their previously scheduled classes to get hands-on experience in Florida’s ecological and environmental issues.
The students are bused to the center where they are divided into their normal class groups. First, they are welcomed by Christina Scally, the center’s director, and view a video on the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup. Following this the class groups rotate through class sessions including: A tour through the Exhibit Center which features displays of Florida fauna and flora, including an active bee hive and audible calls and sounds of the forest; a hands-on laboratory class about the problems of cleaning up oil spills in a marine environment; an outdoor class about micro-ecosystems featuring a hands-on lesson about collecting samples from a pond with a dip net to find what creatures are present; and an introduction to Florida turtles with the chance to touch and hold the animals. Everyone goes on a trail walk where they are introduced to tree and plant identification.