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Non-Profit Group in West Plains Teaches Students Through Exploring the Great Outdoors - Part 1

For this quarter, we traveled east, to West Plains, to see how one non-profit organization is making a difference in the lives of young people. The Bryant Watershed Educational Project aims to blend what children learn in books with hands-on learning outdoors.

I'm Jennifer Moore. Welcome to "Making A Difference Where You Live" our quarterly series focusing on how philanthropy and volunteerism meet the needs of the communities around us.

Today on Making a Difference, we're looking at people who are helping children learn through experiencing the great outdoors.

Support for this series comes from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

For this quarter, we traveled east, to West Plains, to see how one non-profit organization is making a difference in the lives of young people. The Bryant Watershed Educational Project aims to blend what children learn in books with hands-on learning outdoors.

We tagged along on one of its educational events. On this particular day, a group of young people with a range of disabilities is headed out to Galloway Creek Nature Park to learn about the flora, fauna and waterways of the Ozarks.

As we set off on our walk along the nature trail, Lois Reborne, the executive director of Bryant Watershed, takes the lead, identifying certain plants and flowers along the path.

"This one right here...this is called false lettuce. I don't think it looks like lettuce at all!"

"No!"

"Especially since it has thorns!"

"Ouch!"

The group sees some blackberry bushes ripe with berries...walks across a covered bridge looking for frogs below...and spots one of the Ozarks' most dreaded plants: poison ivy.

"And sometimes it looks like a bush, and sometimes it grows like a vine. It grows in all different ways," Reborne tells them.

16-year-old Jared asks why it's called "Poison Ivy." Reborne tells him because it has something in it that acts like a poison, or irritant, to your skin.

"Like venom from a snake?" Jared asks.

"Kind of, yes," Reborne answers.

"It makes you get a rash that really itches..."

You can see the wheels turning in their heads: they're learning, just by soaking it all in. Reborne says the Bryant Watershed tries to build the five senses into its educational events.

"So that youngsters who don't learn as well in the regular classroom setting, they learn through doing art, they learn through being outside and touching things and smelling them, by listening to them," Reborne says.

She says the Bryant Watershed organizes field trips to museums and other local resources where children can experience what she calls "place-based" learning.

"So much of the classroom work is proscribed and very structured. And it's meant that creative teachers who used to do things outdoors don't have much of an opportunity to plan those kids of events," Reborne says.

This particular nature event has a surprise in store for the young hikers. As they come around a corner, they see a man sitting on a log holding a gray fox.

As they approach him, some realize the fox is actually a puppet, but they're fascinated nonetheless.

Volunteer Jim Heurig proceeds to tell the group all about the gray fox, and pulls out his other puppets from a bag—all of them animals found in the Missouri Ozarks. Groundhogs, armadillos, bears...but the group's favorite is a small black mammal with a white stripe, which they all instantly recognize.

Group: "Skunk!"

Reborne says her organization got a major boost in 2007 when it received over 21,000 dollars of grant money through the Community Foundation of the Ozarks' Coover Regional Grant-making program.

CFO has 40 affiliates throughout southern Missouri, but West Plains is the only affiliate outside of Springfield to have a staffed office.

The contact person there is Carol Silvey. She says the Bryant Watershed was a perfect fit to receive the grant.

"It has the concept of environmental issues, it has the concept of education, it has the concept of pooling our resources to make it all better, which is just what Community Foundation is about," Silvey says.

The Bryant Watershed Educational Project serves nearly two thousand students in a given year, taking them on a diverse range of field trips.

For more information about how this non-profit group is affecting young people throughout southern Missouri, you can visit its website, watersheds.org.

In West Plains, I'm Jennifer Moore, and this has been our quarterly series, "Making a Difference Where You Live."

Links:

  • Bryant Watershed Educational Project Website