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Kiosk to help lessons germinate

A new interactive kiosk to educate students about water conservation will be up and running in about a year at the Florida Botanical Gardens in Pinewood Cultural Park.

Judy Yates, director of the gardens and the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service, said Wednesday that the 182-acre Botanical Gardens has received a grant for $99,800 from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

With the grant, secured with the help of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Largo, the Botanical Gardens will develop a prototype of an interactive learning system appropriate for middle school students and older. At first, it will only operate in the gardens, but eventually people will be able to access the program on the Internet.

It will also have links to other Web sites such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly called Swiftmud, and the county's water conservation department.

"We've been working with Congressman Young's office and Swiftmud for a year on this," Yates said. "This program will not just be an information-giving one but will actively involve youngsters and others. Not only will it be a prototype for our county, but it could serve as a model for other counties and other states."

The program is in the conceptual stage and the money for it will not arrive until August, Yates said.

A design team has been working for three weeks on various aspects that include writing the program, hiring a curriculum writer, compensating several area teachers on a curriculum advisory board and construction of a kiosk.

"We don't know where the kiosk will be located in the gardens yet, but we have several spots where we concentrate on water conservation, including various ecosystems, wetlands and swampy areas," Yates said.

"Eventually, as we get more money, we envision as many as 20 kiosks with different programs throughout the gardens," said Jennifer Kendrick, a University of Florida instructional designer who is part of the design team.

Kendrick taught school in Tampa for nearly four years before taking the job with UF, which has her working with 12 counties including Pinellas County.

Yates said that before a program is settled on, it will be tested at a Pinellas middle school.

Although there is no design for the kiosk yet, Yates said, "We have found one in North Carolina that can withstand the elements . . . and it can stand alone. Perhaps we will pattern ours after that one."

The Florida Botanical Gardens opened last December as a part of Pinewood Cultural Park. The other components are Heritage Village, the Gulf Coast Museum of Art and the Cooperative Extension Service. The entities are between Ulmerton and Walsingham roads and 125th and 119th streets.

_ Information from Times files used in this report.