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Teaching Environmental Science summer institute concludes on Neches River

Lamar University’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences 16th annual Teaching Environmental Science summer institute introduced Southeast Texas' EC-12 teachers – and students studying to become teachers -- to local environmental issues through first-hand experiences. The participants concluded the two-week course on the Neches River where they learned about programs to prevent and contain oil spills in local coastal waters.

Airboat ride“The experiences from the last two weeks will help me to better inform students in my classroom of environmental safety and how to protect the environment, not only at their age but also for the future,” said Port Arthur teacher Minta Bergeron. “It has made me more aware of how safe our environment is here in Port Arthur and the surrounding Golden Triangle area. I have learned a lot about our local water, land and air. Not only that they are safe, but that industry and the government are doing everything they can to keep it that way.”

The 10-day field institute, called “Teaching Environmental Sciences in the Three Rivers’ Watersheds and Wetlands,” is offered in conjunction with the Region 5 Science Collaborative and 24 local industries, state and federal agencies, and environmental non-governmental organizations. The institute is a co-enrollment graduate/undergraduate course for both in-service and pre-service (education major) teachers.

The Texas General Land Office and U.S. Coast Guard explained oil spill prevention and response by showing demonstrations at Port Neches Park on Friday. Using airboats and a Coast Guard vessel, the teachers and future teachers saw how oil skimmers operate and help clean up the oil if spills should occur.

Area teachers participating were Bergeron, Jami Burns and Melinda Vail of Port Arthur; Katie Kornegay of West Orange-Stark; Summer Linscomb of West Brook; and Mary McLean of Lumberton. Also attending were Lamar University students Hilary Allen, Michael Black and Heather Burgess of Beaumont, Nick Brandes of Sealy, Samantha Chauvin of Vinton, La., Sandra Griffin of Vidor, Tania Stephens of Nederland and Johanna Todd of Liberty.

Oil skimmer demoIn the program, the teachers and LU students explored environmental topics such as industrial, agricultural and domestic wastes and emissions that affect the Neches, Trinity and Sabine River watersheds and air sheds with field trips throughout the area. “One of the primary things that I have learned from this program is how environmentally conscious all the area refineries and plants try to be,” said McLean. “We toured DuPont, ExxonMobil and Entergy and were able to see how much water they take in and put out and learned about the process they use to keep the environment safe.”

The teacher participants receive full scholarships, as well as teaching materials they can use in their classrooms after the course. Teaching materials fulfill the No Child Left Behind professional development requirements for teachers, while the field activities prepare teachers and future teachers to instruct through self-directed, inquiry-method learning. Each institute's cohort of in-service teachers instructs more than 2,000 students each fall. Since its inception, more than 150,000 Texas students have taken courses from teachers who have experienced the institute.

The Teaching Environmental Science Institute is jointly sponsored by the Texas Regional Science Collaborative, Entergy, ExxonMobil, MeadWestvaco, Sempra Energy, Chevron Phillips, Valero, Magnolia Garden Club, Waterborne Education Center, National Park Service’s Big Thicket National Preserve, Big Thicket Association, The Nature Conservancy, Village Creek State Park, Texas Energy Museum, Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center, Sea Grant, Texas Agrilife Extension Service, Texas General Land Office Oil Spill Prevention & Response, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas State University Texas Stream Team, Texas Parks & Wildlife Coastal Fisheries, Clean Air & Water Inc., DuPont Sabine River Works, Lower Neches Valley Authority, U.S. Coast Guard and Lamar University.

The Lamar University TES Institute has received international, national and statewide exposure through presentations at numerous venues. These have included conferences of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (2006), National Science Teachers Association (2003 & 2005), North American Association for Environmental Education (2002 & 2003), Science Teachers Association of Texas (2001-2004), Texas Academy of Science (2002, 2003, & 2005), and the Texas Environmental Educators Partnership (2002).