Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Learning lab brings Crystal Springs experience on road


If you stand very still and be very quiet you can hear the sound of water trickling. Slide your fingers across the walls and you can feel real fossils that were discovered on the grounds just outside the door behind you. Look upwards and its blue sky you see, because that's where the water bubbles up toward, flowing into the clear, native springs that are Florida's treasure.

The "underwater cave" is a foyer of sorts — a manufactured real-life experience that serves as entry into a 54-foot-long learning lab on wheels designed to teach thousands of kids about the importance of the Florida aquifer.

"Make sure you explore and read whatever you can," is the first command of Sarah Todd, one of two educators who serve as tour guides on the mobile classroom. "And touch everything."

Last week, 100 fourth-grade students from Wesley Chapel Elementary School had the opportunity to do just that as the Crystal Springs Foundation and Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water unveiled their new WaterVentures Learning Lab at Crystal Springs Preserve.

It was a test run for the mobile lab that was scheduled to head to Miami so students there could get a taste of the lessons Crystal Springs has to offer while encouraging them to become thoughtful keepers of the state's essential resource. State Sen. John Legg, an educator who co-founded Dayspring Academy charter school, also was in attendance and spoke briefly about the value of hands-on learning in the natural setting. Robert Thomas, whose family owns Crystal Springs, shared some history of the preserve, which once was a favored childhood swimming hole, then a popular recreation area before his family bought the land to save it for future generations.

Each year about 50,000 central Florida students make the trek to the 525-acre preserve to interact with nature and partake in a variety of hands-on activities that are funded, in part, by the bottling of spring water by Nestle Waters (parent company of Zephyrhills Spring Water). But that was about all the kids the preserve can handle, so stewards opted to expand their outreach by hitting the road. Building and operating the lab costs about $1.3 million, but Karen Pate said it's a very good investment — particularly if you can get your message to 100,000 more youngsters a year, as planned.

"The preserve has reached capacity for daily input," said Pate, vice president of the Crystal Springs Foundation. "We want to take a slice of native Florida and what we do at Crystal Springs and take it out there."

Pate was instrumental in the planning and design of the educational aspects of the mobile classroom.

Lessons, Pate said, are geared to "capture zone" students, who will make a bigger impact by spreading the environmental message to their families.

"Hopefully it becomes a way of life for them," Pate said. "And in six years these kids will be voters — educated voters."

Save for the primitive feel of the "underwater" cave, the lab is a high-tech experience with activities held inside and out. The trailer-wide exhibit is brimming with buttons to push, knobs to turn and giant touch screens that spout environmental facts with an easy tap of a finger. Students can play a game called H2O while learning about the water cycle from precipitation to evaporation, or push a button or light up the various bodies of water both above and underground in Florida. They can pick their own adventure as a water drop flowing from a river that takes them to an estuary full of mangrove trees, a saw grass bed or ultimately swallowed by a crab. They can take turns sorting animated recyclables on a giant touchscreen or venture to a learning station outside to use toy-like figurines and buildings to create their own environmentally sound community.

In the end, students take what they will from the experience and get a little prodding from their instructors who ask, "What did you learn?" before the kids disembark.

"You can build a whole playground from recycled stuff," said Gariona Love, 10, when called upon.

"You can save more water by taking a bath rather than a 10-minute shower," Kyra Barreno, 9, piped up.

There is definite buy-in from kids like Timothy Kovacs, 9, who said, "This is so awesome — so much fun with all the giant screens and the games."

And while Peyton Sessuns, 9, said she enjoyed her high-tech trek through the mobile lab, her favorite part of the day was simply being outdoors.

"The springs are amazing looking," she said as she lined up with class for lunch. "This is such a great place for kids to learn. You can see things; touch things to see how they feel. It's just an amazing learning experience."

Did you know…

• You can save 17 trees by recycling 2,000 pounds of cardboard

• The sun evaporates 359 trillion gallons of water a day, which is enough to fill Lake Okeechobee 261 times.

• The energy saved by recycling one glass bottle can light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours or run a computer for 30 minutes.

• The energy saved by recycling one plastic bottle can light a 60-watt light bulb for six hours.

• Recycled milk jugs can be used to make the fuzz on tennis balls.

Source: Crystal Springs Foundation

Learning lab brings Crystal Springs experience on road 01/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 9:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”