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EDUCATION A MAIN FOCUS OF AUDUBON MISSISSIPPI’S MISSION AND OUTREACH

Erin Parker brings experience to the new Pascagoula River Audubon Center

Erin Parker teaching during Toddler Tuesday Photo: MMD

For years, Erin Parker worked in a high school classroom, teaching students about science, nature and ecology.  At the same time, she continued working part-time at a nature center hoping one day to marry the two skills together. Today, she couples her teaching skills and love of nature as she educates people of all ages at Moss Point’s new Pascagoula River Audubon Center serving as the Center’s Education and Outreach Manager.

“It was a unique and rare opportunity to be able to create programs at a new, beautiful center,” says Parker who moved to the summer heat in South Mississippi from Wisconsin just last summer on the heels of the center’s grand opening. “Getting the center opened was both hectic and fun. Our team worked on concrete deadlines while also trying to figure out what would draw people back again and again after the doors officially opened.”

Since it opened in October 2015, the new Pascagoula River Audubon Center has seen the likes of toddlers and seniors and others in between.  The regular “Toddler Tuesday” programs are designed to help the youngest visitors learn to connect with nature through stories, art, science and movement.  Parker plans a theme for each week and then incorporates a story and learning stations into each lesson.

“We want children to be comfortable outdoors,” she says.  “We are inspiring them to connect with nature and science throughout their life, while also working on sensory development and even motor skills.”

Parker has gotten back into the classroom while working with two school districts along the Mississippi Gulf Coast on behalf of the new Audubon Center.  She recently worked with both the Gulfport and Pascagoula-Gautier School Districts to teach middle school aged children about watersheds.  Her work with them involved teaching lessons in their schools on watersheds and storm water drainage.

With the Pascagoula-Gautier School District, Parker worked with seventh graders in their classroom and then their efforts culminated in outdoor activities at I.G. Levy Park.  The students worked their way through seven hands-on stations and learned more about storm water and rain gardens. They tested water at the park’s pond, went through a rain garden station where plants were planted and gutters were re-routed to filter onto the plants and also learned more about native plants and invasive species at the tree station.  They used their art skills to draw a mural of what they learned throughout both the classroom and field sessions.

“These activities were very beneficial for our students,” said Leslie Salter, science coordinator for the school district. “Our kids seemed to enjoy it all and learn at the same time. I was impressed at how very well organized everything was.”

Parker is currently working on program offerings during school vacation days, especially spring break.  The first opportunity was on Good Friday.  Over 20 children attended the first vacation day program centered on the Easter weekend.  She taught kindergarten through fourth grade students more about rabbits and hares and how to naturally dye eggs.  Other programs are planned in April to educate students and visitors during spring breaks.

“We are hoping that students will take an opportunity, even while out of their own classroom, to learn,” said Parker.  “Our events are fun and give students an opportunity to be in nature but also provide important educational elements.”

Another important aspect of Audubon’s education outreach is the summer camps held annually at the center.  This year the new center will host three camp sessions.  The first two are geared for children entering second through fifth grade.  This morning camp will be held June 6-10 and June 13-17.  Children will have an opportunity to explore the science of the Pascagoula River ecosystems and get a hands-on experience at the new center.

For students entering sixth-eighth grades, the Center offers a Middle School Camp, June 20-24,which will also offer a hands-on experience.  The summer camps conclude June 27-July 1 with the High School Junior Naturalist Program.

Parker is also working with the Coast’s older generation through partnership with community senior centers and senior groups.  She works with these groups inside the center with a brief presentation and then leads them outside to bird watch. 

“I work to teach them how to create a bird friendly environment in their own backyard,” said Parker.  “I try to make sure they leave the center with little bits of information that they can incorporate into their own routine.”

Recently, she toured a group of about 20 from the Blossman YMCA in Ocean Springs through the new center and around its grounds on a beautiful day.

“Erin was so knowledgeable about what to look for even though she has been in our area for a short period of time,” says Lara Jordan who coordinates the senior programs for the YMCA.  “We enjoyed the trails and after we bird-watched from the Scout Hut, some of our seniors didn’t want to leave.”

Building bird friendly communities remains a focus of Audubon Mississippi, and Erin has developed a presentation that includes steps anyone can take to make their own backyard bird-friendly.  Recently, she spoke to the Science Cafe group at the Gulf Coast campus of University of Southern Mississippi. 

The new center has not only been teaching others about nature and the environment but also self-health.  Since January, the Center has been offering hatha yoga for all ability levels.  This class meets each Thursday evening at 6 p.m. in the beautiful art gallery, and Parker believes it’s possibly the only yoga currently offered in Moss Point. 

Moss Point resident Patti Weiss has been faithful about attending yoga at the new center.  “It’s such a great opportunity to practice in such a pretty area,” she said.  “The teacher is wonderful, and we hope she will continue there.”

Parker expects this class to head outdoors as temperatures rise. 

“We are thinking about having a class on top of the observation deck overlooking the river as we head into spring,” she added. 

Weiss has also participated in the kayaking trips the center has been offering.  “It’s so much fun and great to be able to do,” she adds.  “I’m hoping that my grandkids can come this summer and go to summer camp.”

Parker notes that all the offerings at the Center would not be possible without the volunteers who help each day.    “We would not be here without our wonderful volunteers,” she added.  “We are always looking for help in any of our programs.”  Call the Center now to volunteer.

Upcoming Events:

April 12          All About Birds for grades 2-5, 1-3 p.m. $10 members/$15 non-members; registration required, pracregistration@audubon.org

April 13          Wonderful Wetlands for grades 2-5, 1-3 p.m., $10 members/$15 non-members; registration required, pracregistration@audubon.org

April 14          Exploring Ecosystems for grades 2-5, 1-3 p.m., $10 members/$15 non-members; registration required, pracregistration@audubon.org

SUMMER CAMPS

June 6-10: Summer Camp Session 1

For children entering grades 2-5

$100/child; Limited to 60 children

Mornings only

June 13-17: Summer Camp Session 2

For children entering grades 2-5

$100/child; Limited to 60 children

Mornings only

June 20-24: Middle School Camp Session

For children entering grades 6-8

$100/child; Limited to 60 children

Mornings only

June 27-July 1: High School Junior Naturalist Program

For students entering grades 9-12

$150/student; limited to students

9 a.m. – 4 p.m. each day

WEEKLY PROGRAMS:

Toddler Tuesdays, every Tuesday, 10 a.m.

Hatha Yoga for all levels, every Thursday, 6 p.m.

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