1. Education

New signs provide an education along the Weeki Wachee River

Local artist Christine Weeks painted the educational signs, including this one explaining the importance of eelgrass.
Published May 10, 2017

WEEKI WACHEE — As director of the Springs Coast Environmental Education Center, Cheryl Paradis has had a lot of experience with young, beginning kayakers.

When they are out on the Weeki Wachee River, students in their kayaks resemble the bumper cars at the fair, going every which way, paddles flailing.

A recent visit by West Hernando Middle School sixth-graders at the center even included a student who felt the need to roll off her kayak because she did not want to share it with an eight-legged stowaway. She really, really doesn't like spiders.

Paradis handles all of it. She sees the school district's second-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. The school district leases the center from Southwest Florida Water Management District at no cost. Swiftmud pays for student transportation to and from the center.

"We teach their mission statement," Paradis said. "We teach conservation preservation."

New this year for the benefit of her students and other river travelers are educational signs along the water, although the word "signs" doesn't really describe them well. They are more like small murals or big paintings.

"We see them when we're kayaking," Paradis said, but they are there for the public, too.

They were painted by local artist Christine Weeks.

"They were paid for by a Hernando County commissioners' grant," Paradis said.

Alys Brockway of Hernando County Utilities distributes grants from the County Commission and educates the public about water, Paradis explained.

Before turning her students loose on the river, Paradis meets with them, describes where they are going, what they will see and safety, including what to do if they should overturn or somehow find themselves out of their kayaks.

Her advice: "Stand up."

The river is shallow, and students can just stand upright. They wear life jackets, too.

She tells them to look for damsel­flies, water striders and snail eggs. They looked for eelgrass, a favorite manatee food, which is being planted while the invader alga Lyngbya is being removed on the river.

Jasmine Gibson, 12, paid attention to at least one of the new signs.

"I learned about eelgrass and what manatees eat," she said.

"I saw a sign about Lyngbya," said Sophia Bennett, 12. "It's like algae that floats on the water. I learned that while it's on the water, it's blocking out the sun from the eelgrass."

Nicole Dennis, had literal contact with a sign, one that perhaps suggested why she made contact with it.

"I ran into a sign that said, 'Current is 5 mph,' " she said.

Jim and Connie Gillette were kayakers who managed to wander into area with the sixth-graders. They winter in Spring Hill and summer in Michigan. They also learned from the new signs.

"This is eelgrass," Jim Gillette said. "And it's good for the manatees," his wife added.

And it adds to "stabilization of the river," Jim said.

Paradis is on the river a lot. She sees what her students are doing, but also observes the adults. And she sees how they observe the new signs.

"They'll do it all day long," she said. "All day long."


  1. In this image from a Pinellas County school district video, former School Board member Lee Benjamin motions to someone he knows while sitting with family members during at 2013 ceremony to name the Northeast High School gymnasium in his honor. Mr. Benjamin was the school's first basketball coach in 1954 and later became Northeast's principal in a long career with Pinellas schools that included 14 years on the School Board. He died Wednesday at age 92. Pinellas County Schools
    He was a teacher, coach and eventually the principal of Northeast High in St. Petersburg. Then he became a district administrator and later, a School Board member.
  2. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri chairs the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which is preparing its second round of recommendations for lawmakers.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  3. University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle pieces together a skull that might have been Amelia Earhart's. SANDRA C. ROA  |  University of South Florida
    DNA from a skull found in 1940 could prove whether the famous aviator has been found.
  4. A Hernando County Sheriff's deputy talks to students in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Earlier this month, the school district put forward a proposal to move away from a contract with the Sheriff and establish its own police force. On Tuesday, it announced it would drop that idea.
    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis spoke out this week against the proposal.
  5. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The sides have not set a time to resume discussions on teacher pay.
  6. Vials of medical marijuana oil. [Monica Herndon | Tampa Bay Times]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. The Pasco County school district is considering adopting a policy for student medical marijuana use on district property. [Getty Images]
    The rule will not change the district’s current approach to the touchy topic.
  8. Shown in 2002, Carolyn Hill, then the principal of Kenly Elementary School in east Tampa, celebrated after 78 of her students improved their state scores and were treated to lunch at The Colonnade Restaurant. Hill, now deceased, might be honored Tuesday as the Hillsborough County School Board considers naming a school for her in the SouthShore area. STAFF  |  Tampa Bay Times
    School Board members will select a name on Tuesday
  9. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, 55, is now in his 11th year leading the fourth largest school district in the nation. Miami Herald
    The charismatic leader of the nation’s fourth-largest school district has a complicated legacy. He almost took over the Pinellas County School District in 2008.
  10. Alachua County school superintendent Karen Clarke welcomes the crowd at a "listening session" Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 to discuss changes in the Florida's education standards. A similar session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Jefferson High, 4401 W Cypress St. in Tampa. The Florida Channel
    A roundup of stories from around the state.