Students travel from around the state to visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, where they learn about local wildlife, coastal environments and conservation efforts in tangible, firsthand ways.
Schools in Glynn County take full advantage of this educational resource located nearby, said Katie Higgins, education coordinator at the center. For many students, a visit to the Sea Turtle Center may be their first time experiencing the natural world this way.
“There are many, many situations where those students have grown up here and their only contact with the natural world is coming out here to Jekyll Island and doing this type of field trip,” Higgins said.
The Jekyll Island Authority, a local sponsor of Newspapers in Education, hosts programming year-round, to educate local students about the beauty of their own backyard.
The Sea Turtle Center plays a key role in this education. At the center, the education begins the moment visitors walk through the door. Stations are set up around the center that guide visitors through the life cycle of a loggerhead turtle and introduces viewers to some of the challenges the turtles face.
“At the end of your stamping experience, you find out how long (the turtle) lived and it gives you an idea of why not all of our loggerheads are going to reach adulthood,” Higgins said.
The Sea Turtle Center’s veterinary staff perform treatments on patients in an operating room that can be seen through a window in the center. Visitors can watch the procedures take place and learn about the patient from tour guides.
Once a month, the center hosts family-friendly “Science Saturdays” with hands-on activities for students of all ages.
The center also has an “Adopt-A-Turtle” program that allows individuals, or entire classes, to symbolically adopt a turtle and receive monthly updates.
“Oftentimes they’ll have field trip groups that come through and they’ll make a connection … with a turtle they learn about and they want to follow up,” said Jessica Scott, a spokesperson for the JIA. “So a class will adopt a sea turtle or adopt one of our patients.”
The center offers a variety of eduction programs that cater to students of all ages, Higgins said. The programs also often meet state and national science standards.
Most of the center’s staff have backgrounds in both biology and education.
Meeting the staff members can make students more aware of career opportunities in the science field, Higgins said.
“That’s a really, really important part of what we do, because we’re all different ages and we’re all different types that work here at the center,” she said. “So they can see somebody who looks like them doing the work out here.”
In the animal hospital next door, students receive tours lead by a guide using a microphone. The students also learn about their own big picture role when it comes to the conservation of sea turtles.
“Oftentimes it’s going to be those children who are taking that information home with them and making those changes in a household,” Higgins said.
The center aims to inspire life-long learning in students, Scott said, and help them see how they can be good stewards.
“That’s definitely one of the reasons that Jekyll Island Authority and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center invest in children’s education … we understand the importance and the value of lifelong learning,” she said.