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Educators get schooled at Billie Swamp Safari

Billie Swamp Safari01BIG CYPRESS — The tables were turned on more than 30 teachers this summer when the Tribe’s Florida Seminole Tourism Department hosted daylong learning adventures just for them at Billie Swamp Safari.

“I loved every minute,” said Tiqua Carty, a fifth-grade teacher from Riverland Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale.

Carty was one of five educators to get schooled on Native turf July 11 during a free summertime tour. Other Florida teacher groups were welcomed on different days throughout July when airboat rides, swamp buggy excursions and visits to Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum provided bushels of knowledge within the sights and sounds of the Big Cypress Reservation.

“It’s one thing to watch a video of butterflies in the Everglades. It’s another thing, and a great thing, to see them in reality, in the very biome that they live,” said Faith Chambers, a second-grade teacher from Riverland Elementary.

Melissa Sherman, the promotional coordinator for Florida Seminole Tourism, said teachers were invited via the department’s Partners in Education Fam Tour. A fam tour is designed to familiarize business representatives, usually in the tourist industry, with a particular destination in hopes of luring more business.

“They get enhanced tours that are made relevant to them. For educators, our goal is to provide an exciting learning experience that brings in new teachers, new schools and new field trips,” Sherman said.

As a parent, Sherman knows that the Big Cypress attractions provide fun learning opportunities in many disciplines, including math, science, social studies and art. But when applied to the state’s Department of Education Sunshine State Standards, the experience satisfies specific mandated benchmarks.

An afternoon at the Museum can hit on 12 social studies standards, including one that requires students to identify Native American Tribes from different geographic regions in North America and another that requires them to identify the causes and effects of the Seminole Wars.

A guide provided to educators lists 29 science and social studies benchmarks for grades three through seven that can be met during a school trip to Big Cypress.

Two teachers from Hendricks Day School in Jacksonville were impressed enough after an hour-long swamp buggy tour through Everglades uplands with guide Colin Andrews that they began planning a future trip with 25 students.

Andrews described the “sawgrass prairie” plants, wildlife and water in academic terms while keeping guests entertained and interested. Every minute was filled with information that ranged from how Asian buffalo arrived on the scene to what makes one of the most common plants in the hammock also the most important.

“Call it the cabbage palm, the sabal palm or the swamp cabbage tree, it is not really a tree at all; it is a foundation for life,” Andrews said. The sabal palmetto was historically used for food, shelter, hunting tools and fire and for making clothing, rope and fishing nets.

Jennifer Yates, a special education and entomology teacher, said that she and fifth-grade teacher Amba Kone attended the free tour to check out Big Cypress. Last year, a school field trip to another destination turned to disappointment when promises made on a website proved simply untrue.

“This year we did reconnaissance and found ourselves pleasantly pleased. We’ll be taking back good news because this is absolutely a possibility,” Kone said. “It’s probably the best science and social studies field trip we can give the kids.”