Educators learn local environmental issues through summer program

Published 9:05 am Saturday, July 22, 2017

Special to The Leader


Lamar University’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences is hosting its 22nd annual Teaching Environmental Science summer institute July 10-21. The program introduces southeast Texas educators, education students and EC-12 teachers to local environmental issues through hands-on learning.

The program included a July 14 tour of the Neches River where the Texas General Land Office and U.S. Coast Guard demonstrated oil spill prevention using airboats and a Coast Guard vessel. Participants also learned the long-term effects of industry in local coastal waters.

“Students need to know what they’re up against,” said Alison Tarter, an educator with the Big Thicket Association and a research assistant in aquatic biology working on her thesis at Texas State University. “These environmental decisions impact future generations.”

The 10-day field institute, called “Teaching Environmental Sciences in the Three Rivers’ Watersheds and Wetlands,” addresses environmental topics such as industrial, agricultural and domestic wastes and emissions that affect the Neches, Trinity and Sabine River watersheds and air sheds.

Suzie Tipton, a mid-county native, pointed out her concern for the future of the Neches River after a tour on an airboat.

“There aren’t a lot of different plants out there, which is radically different from how it would have looked 100 years ago. This would have been swamp, which is meaningful to people of Bridge City because wetlands mitigate storm surge,” said Tipton.

A former 4th grade teacher of science and Texas history at West Orange-Stark Elementary, Tipton said the summer course has made her a better teacher.

“You’re explaining to children how we lived, what things looked like, how they are now and how that imparts their lives—but at the same time, you understand how our use of petroleum supports progress, and you stress a balance. The kids just love learning about that,” she said.

The summer institute is offered in conjunction with the Region 5 Science Collaborative and 22 local industries, state and federal agencies and environmental non-governmental organizations. The institute is a co-enrollment graduate/undergraduate course for both in-service teachers and education majors.

The field activities prepare teachers and future teachers to instruct through self-directed, inquiry-method learning. Each institute’s cohort of in-service teachers instructs more than 2,000 students each fall, and more than 200,000 Texas students have taken courses from teachers who have experienced the institute since its inception.

The Teaching Environmental Science Institute is jointly sponsored by ExxonMobil, Entergy, Westrock, Texas Regional Science Collaborative, Jason Alliance of Southeast Texas, Sempra/Port Arthur LNG, Chevron Philips, Texas Energy Museum, Huntsman, DuPont SRW, Valero, National Park Service Big Thicket National Preserve, Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, Big Thicket Association, Clean Air & Water, Inc., Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention & Response, Texas Agrilife Extension Service/Sea Grant, Texas State University Texas Stream Team, Texas Parks & Wildlife Coastal Fisheries, U.S. Coast Guard and Lamar University.

The Lamar University TES Institute has received international, national and statewide exposure through presentations at numerous venues. These have included conferences of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (2006), National Science Teachers Association (2003 & 2005), North American Association for Environmental Education (2002 & 2003), Science Teachers Association of Texas (2001-2004), Texas Academy of Science (2002, 2003, & 2005), and the Texas Environmental Educators Partnership (2002).