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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve

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We are Volunteer Powered!

Written on: March 22nd, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogSt. Jones ReserveUncategorizedVolunteers

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience attending our first ever “Education Volunteer Training”. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

We are Volunteer Powered! 

This way to educational volunteer training! Can you feel the electric vibes?

This way to educational volunteer training! Can you feel the electric vibes?

On Super Tuesday 2016, many citizens across our nation gathered at the polls; but at the St. Jones Reserve, a convivial group of strangers assembled to listen, to learn, and to begin to collaborate. Present were about two dozen prospective volunteers, some from the general public, some from DNREC’s Coastal Programs…and one roving DNERR guest-blogger, who was there to find out what the hoopla was all about.

In case it has somehow escaped your notice, DNERR is perpetually the focus of much hoopla. In-season, its two Reserves receive some 2,000 students; in the off-season, DNERR “takes it to the classroom” by going into local schools to give age-appropriate talks on topics such as “Estuary Creature Feature” and “Non-Point Source Pollution/Watersheds”; and year-round, apart from being a destination for 2,000 visitors and tourists, DNERR is also in the thick of things with its participation in such popular public-outreach events as Delaware Ag Day (April 30; 10 am – 4 pm); the Delaware State Fair (July 21 – 30); Coast Day (2016 date TBA); DNERR’s Blackbird Creek Fall Festival (October 15; 10 am – 4 pm); and Estuary Day (September 24; times and details TBD).  That’s a whole lotta hoopla!

Maggie speaks to the attentive and enthusiastic group.

Maggie speaks to the attentive and enthusiastic group.

Add to that NOAA’s “Every Kid in a Park” program, for the 2015/2016 school year, and there’s quite a bit of info to get out about the great ecology lessons to be found in our estuaries. But how to accomplish it all, with DNERR’s limited staff? Enter its valiant, vibrant corps of volunteers. Even if you have never done such a thing, and are not sure you are science‑y and/or teacher‑y enough, DNERR will readily equip you for the task; and–this may be the best part–they also provide options for which type of program or activity the volunteer would like to pursue. Volunteers are needed during the day (particularly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), but also occasionally on evenings or weekends.

Going into classrooms not your cup of tea? Then assist with hosting a nature walk at one of DNERR’s Reserves. Leading groups of students not your thing? Then “person” an interactive display-table at a fair or festival. And if you should have ideas about new programs or activities DNERR could offer, Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator, would be happy to receive your suggestions. Assistance with curriculum development is also welcome.

Maggie waxes poetic: "The marsh is like an oil painting...."

Maggie waxes poetic: “The marsh is like an oil painting….”

Maggie was the leader for the education volunteer training on Super Tuesday. Informative packets were distributed to each attendee, containing sheets of general guidance as well as specifics. For instance, in the folders were a station-by-station description of a “Horseshoe Crab Molt Lab,” details for an “Eat and Go” session on the subject of shorebirds (no, Red Knots are not on the menu, but the audience will certainly learn about them), a “Wetland Walk Cheat Sheet,” and for the climate-data-minded, a sheet entitled, “St. Jones — Greenhouse Gas Flux Monitoring: Eddy Covariance System in a Salt Marsh.” Much of the packet was reviewed by the participants while still inside “The Barn,” DNERR’s multi-purpose conference-space; but with temperatures that day climbing into the 50s, the outdoors-minded group naturally opted to head outside to continue the training.

Once settled at the picnic tables, and after some further discussion, Maggie introduced the guest speaker, Sara Anderson, a retired teacher, who related some helpful strategies for interacting with student groups, as well as answered questions from the trainee-volunteers.

The nuts-and-bolts having been addressed, Maggie then turned the discussion to what could be called the philosophy behind the art of interpretation. The best interpretation is not a dull recitation of facts, but instead can capture the imagination through the use of symbolism, humor, or metaphor: from sharing a haiku, to leading a small group in the making of Japanese-style “fish prints” (known as Gyotaku), to describing the parts of a marsh as being “like the layers of an oil painting.”

After a brief break, we re-convened in “The Barn” for the concluding portion of the program, with an examination of some lab specimens related to horseshoe crab anatomy and to the crabs’ molting- and reproduction-cycles.

Speaking of "electric vibes", check out Maggie's shocking-pink shoes!

Speaking of “electric vibes,” check out Maggie’s shocking-pink shoes!

The half-day’s training was one of much learning, but with some good-natured jocularity and at least one moment of unintendedly edgy humor. This not-normally-queasy individual about fainted when Maggie held up, and suddenly yanked apart, the upper shell and the undercarriage of a large, presumably dead, horseshoe crab, in order to show us the crab’s innards. Or as our handout sheets call them, the esophagus, the crop-gizzard, and other chitinous structures. Only after her dramatic reverse-clashing of the anatomically-correct, horseshoe-crab-shaped “cymbals” did she make mention that the crab was a replica; but even knowing that, it was still somewhat disconcerting when the process was repeated a few minutes later. What a way to get kids’ attention! It sure got this writer’s.

If any of this sounds unexpectedly intriguing, then please consider DNERR’s education volunteer training. Bring your energy! Bring your sense of adventure! Bring your own particular ecological/artistic interests! And if you should happen to have a zingy pair of shoes? Bring those, too! Get in on the hoopla! Share your vibe! Help spread the word about our fabulous Reserves!


Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

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M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

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