Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco County's environmental camp for low-income children returns


Abigail Ibarra swooped a butterfly net back and forth Tuesday as she walked through high grass at Starkey Environmental Education Center.

She snared a dragonfly, delicately pulled it out and placed the insect into a magnified viewing box.

Teacher Robin Carter approached the rising fifth-grader at Cox Elementary School to make sure none of the meaning got missed.

"Notice the characteristics," Carter said, pointing out the dragonfly's head, abdomen and thorax. She reminded Abigail and her study partner to take notes on their observation sheets for a later discussion on insect diversity in habitats with multiple forms of plants.

All around them, other girls from Cox and Lacoochee elementary schools waved their nets, capturing beetles, butterflies and spiders, and yielding some of the shrieks you might associate with girls who have just caught bugs.

Back at the education center, other groups of children learned about trees and leaves, animal paw prints and scat. A day earlier, they studied reptiles, water ecosystems and wilderness survival at Crystal Springs in eastern Pasco County.

"It's pretty much as hands-on and as close to science as they can get," Carter explained.

Making such connections is a crucial piece of the education puzzle for schools that are increasingly focused on accountability standards as measured by tests. Many educators were critical, for instance, that the FCAT writing exam for fourth-graders asked a question that presupposed children's knowledge of camels, when many had no exposure to the desert creatures.

To overcome the experience gap, Pasco County's Title I department serving low-income children created the Pasco Environmental Adventure Camp Experience three years ago. Children from some of the county's poorest families got the chance to attend a weeklong summer program at the school district's nature centers, learning science-based lessons they might not get in everyday life.

Since the camp's inception, Title I director Elena Garcia said, the schools have seen these children improve dramatically in their science academic performance as measured on FCAT and other assessments.

"We are seeing and hearing from science teachers that things aren't as foreign to the kids," Garcia said. "It's having the impact we wanted it to have."

The program nearly died for lack of funding this year, nonetheless.

The federal government reduced all its Title I grants and added new requirements for how to use the remaining amounts. Only a last-minute replenishment of the funds provided a clear source of revenue for the award-winning environmental camp and its partner technology camp, which combined are serving about 1,400 children from 27 schools this summer.

Children participating at the Starkey Ranch were glad to have the option. Many of them said they otherwise would have spent the time at home watching television, playing or simply doing nothing.

"I'm really having fun, because we get to do different things," said Caleb Davenport, also a Cox rising fifth-grader. "We get to make bandannas, whacking leaves with hammers to make marks. We learned animal tracks. We get to learn stuff about different kinds of animals.

"Yesterday we were learning about different types of animals in the water. We fished to see which ones we could catch," added Isaiah Ivey, another Cox rising fifth-grader. "In the last group we were learning about different types of trees and how old they are with their rings. . . . I think I like it. I'm into science."

Lacoochee Elementary rising fourth-grader Anna Gaccelle Vazquez shared their enthusiasm.

She talked with rapid excitement about the snakes and crustaceans she discovered at Crystal Springs during Monday's lessons, as she paused by the path at Starkey Ranch to watch two beetles roll a rock. She swished her net, but only caught the rock as the beetles scooted away.

"I can't wait for Thursday," she effused. "The Florida Aquarium is where we are going. Tomorrow kayaking. I like to be in the water. That's my favorite thing to be in."

Abigail, the dragonfly catcher, deemed the camp fun because of all the activities and lessons. She also declared it important for her future.

"Next year, we have FCAT for science," she said. "Now we know. That's why I came, because I don't want to be stupid."

Carter, her teacher, reminded Abigail that the FCAT doesn't decide if a person is smart or not. It's just a test, she said.

But the point was well taken, that the children wanted to learn more so they can meet the expectations set for them.

"I'm happy we can give needing kids opportunities like that," Garcia said.

The summer environmental and technology camps continue for the next three weeks, with different Title I schools rotating through them.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

Pasco County's environmental camp for low-income children returns 06/12/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 9:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Can the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl thrive in competitive sports market?


    ST. PETERSBURG — It's a funky name: the Bad Boys Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. But the new sponsors for the former St. Petersburg Bowl might need more than an eye-catching name to create a thriving, profitable contest.

    NC State head coach Dave Doeren clutches the championship trophy after winning the Bitcoin Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg in 2014. Bowl organizers are changing the name of the game to the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.

  2. Dirk Koetter says Bucs used team meeting to discuss social issues


    Four days before their preseason home opener against the Cleveland Browns, which had 12 players not stand for the national anthem prior to their last game, the Bucs used their team meeting to discuss social issues that might have led to that demonstration, coach Dirk Koetter said.

    "The main thing is we have to respect everybody's opinion," Dirk Koetter said, "because everybody is not going to agree." [AP photo]
  3. Rookie tight end Antony Auclair making case to stick with Bucs


    Don't let his modest preseason stats fool you: Antony Auclair, the undrafted rookie tight end from Canada is making a strong case to stick around on the Bucs' 53-man roster this season.

    Bucs tight end Antony Auclair (82) collides with a defender following a catch during training camp. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  4. Who is that 'Blacks for Trump' guy standing behind the president at his Phoenix rally


    At a number of political rallies over the last two years, a character calling himself "Michael the Black Man" has appeared in the crowd directly behind Donald Trump, impossible to miss and possibly planted.

    Michael the Black Man, variously known as Michael Symonette, Maurice Woodside and Mikael Israel, holds up a sign as President Donald Trump speaks to a crowd at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on Tuesday in Phoenix, Arizona.  [Ralph Freso | Getty Images]
  5. Off-duty Manatee County deputy saves couple from burning car

    Public Safety

    MANATEE COUNTY — Neil and Claudia Cook are lucky to be alive after an off-duty deputy spotted them trapped in their smoking car and rescued them just before it became engulfed in flames on …

    Neil and Claudia Cook were trapped in their smoking car on Sunday when an off-duty deputy kicked out the window, rescuing them just before the car became engulfed in flames. [Courtesy of Manatee County Sheriff's Office]