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Over 350 students learn about local wildlife in Fall Education Program.

lesfruitsdemerfallwildlifeeducationprogram05112013GRAND CASE:--- Last week, hundreds of local children learned how wildlife came to this island in the pilot version of the Fall Wildlife Education Program, created by the Les Fruits de Mer Association in cooperation with SXM Wildlife. Multimedia presentations about the origins of wildlife on St. Maarten/St. Martin, designed specifically for the youth of the island and for use in local schools, were given to over 350 students in kindergarten through 8th grade.

The students actively explored concepts like migration, natural colonization, human introduction of animals, evolution and adaptive radiation, island biogeography and ecosystems and food webs during the presentations of "Voyagers, Castaways and Stowaways: How life arrived on SXM". The sessions were all taught by wildlife expert Mark Yokoyama, the author of The Incomplete Guide to the Wildlife of Saint Martin. Classes also received copies of The Incomplete Guide so students can continue learning about local wildlife.

The pilot Fall Wildlife Education Program visited 14 classes in 4 schools: Sister Regina Primary School, St. Maarten Montessori School, Sister Borgia Primary School and Learning Unlimited. These schools and classes were chosen to be part of the first program because their teachers responded to the Les Fruits de Mer Association's open invitation to have the presentation. Parents who knew about the opportunity to participate in the pilot program also played an important role by bringing it to teachers' attention.

A short survey was given before and after presentations to measure improvements in understanding four fundamental aspects of St. Martin's ecology. Prior to the presentations, only 22% of students knew that the island originally had no terrestrial animals, only 56% knew that some of the species on the island are migratory and spend only part of the year here, and only 32% knew that St. Martin hosts endemic species that live nowhere else in the world. After the presentations, 74%, 92% and 94% of the students answered these questions correctly–a marked improvement, even amongst young students.

"Local wildlife is a subject that is underrepresented in curricula designed for Europe or North America, as most existing curricula here is. So our goal is to produce initiatives that educate about the natural heritage of this island, and illustrate concepts in relation to the place where these students live, with examples they can see every day when they walk out the door or look out the window," said Yokoyama. "Now that we've had such a successful pilot program we hope to work with education departments on both sides of the island to organize and fund this type of program on a larger scale to reach as many kids as possible."

This first Fall Wildlife Education Program was funded by private donors contributing to the SXM Wildlife Sponsor a School Visit Program, with additional books from Buy-One-Give-One book program. Individuals and businesses can sponsor presentations and other activities by supporting the Sponsor A School Visit Program at http://www.sxmwildlife.com/support/sponsor-a-school-visit/, contributing items from the wish list of equipment and materials for presentations and other educational activities at http://ass.lesfruitsdemer.org/about-us/wishlist/, or donating to the Les Fruits de Mer Association.

Les Fruits de Mer is a non-profit association based in St. Martin whose core mission is to raise awareness about nature, culture, and sport. One way the organization carries out this mission is to champion, create, and implement education for children. In cooperation with SXM Wildlife, Les Fruits de Mer conducts education initiatives on both sides of the island including the Fall Wildlife Education Program, and other hands-on classroom visits, presentations, workshops and field trips as well as work with after-school groups and the book donation program. The education initiatives are focused on local wildlife, arts and culture, and learning activities for students of all ages are designed to be fun, engaging and interactive as well as educational. The Association is currently accepting program funding and new member applications on its website, http://ass.lesfruitsdemer.org.

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