Valerie Nehrbass-Vidrine uses hands-on lessons and activities in her classroom to facilitate deeper connections between her students and our environment.
Q: What subject(s) & grade(s) do you teach?
A: I teach 5th, 6th, and 7th-grade science at Berchmans Academy in Grand Coteau.
Q: Why is it important to you to teach about Louisiana wetlands, and how does it align with your teaching philosophy?
A: Our wetlands are our first defense against hurricanes and while humans can’t control hurricanes, we can control how we protect and restore our wetlands. My teaching philosophy essentially boils down to educating students to a social awareness that impels them to action. The Sacred Heart Schools Goals and Criteria state under goal 3, criterion 4 “all members of the school community accept accountability for the care of God’s creation, practice effective stewardship of the earth’s resources and work to alleviate the climate crisis.” It’s not enough to teach students concepts; it’s imperative that they be able to apply learning to new situations and understand when it’s their responsibility to step in and do what they can.
Q: In what ways do you encourage your students to be proactive/involved in environmental stewardship?
A: Personal and hands-on application is key! My students grow and plant native trees in conjunction with the LSU Coastal Roots program to help restore black bear habitat on Avery Island. Our school garden and bee hives provide students with the opportunity to nurture and observe the natural world in our own backyard. The LDWF’s Native Fish in the Classroom program provides us with the opportunity to raise native paddlefish in the classroom and release them back into the wild in an effort to restore their population. Our prep science curriculum is geared towards environmental stewardship specifically; it’s a natural union.
Q: Describe your favorite lesson/activity that you use in your classroom to teach about Louisiana wetlands.
A: I love letting students explore the resources on watchthedeltagrow.com. The Mississippi River Paths video makes a concept that can be abstract (for kids) tangible and comprehensible. When we talk about coastal restoration and how we can protect the wetlands and coastline that we do have, students also build physical coastlines and model different defense systems. It all boils down to making it relevant for students and letting them explore for themselves.
Q: What would you say to a student who is hesitant or not interested in participating in a lesson about Louisiana wetlands?
A: It’s all connected – everything that you love and enjoy about being a Louisianan can be connected back to our wetlands.
I think ultimately a student hesitant and unwilling to participate in a lesson about Louisiana wetlands is just unaware of the effect that wetlands have on their existence as a Louisiana resident. Finding out what is important to them and connecting it to our wetlands is a great way to get student buy-in.