Wetland Watchers receive national award

Innovative program recognized by State Farm Youth Leadership for Service Learning Excellence

The LeBranche Wetland Watchers service learning group at Harry Hurst Middle School in Destrehan has been a hot topic of conversation among parents and educators in the parish and beyond. Most recently the group gained national attention by receiving the Youth Leadership of Service Learning Excellence Award at the organization’s conference in Philadelphia. Two students and the program’s creator traveled to the conference to except the award on behalf the group.

“The Wetland Watchers service program gives students the opportunity to get up close and personal with the wetlands that are so vital to our community and state,” said Harry Hurst Middle School 7th grade teacher and creator of the LeBranche Wetland Watchers service, Barry Guillot.
In this innovative program, students learn first hand through field trips and activities how the wetlands support the ecological and animal habitats of the state of Louisiana. The program, originally created in 1998 by the seventh grade teacher, gives students the chance to meet required academic standards through service to the community and to local wetlands.

Louisiana loses a football field of wetlands every thirty minutes. The LeBranche Wetlands have suffered some of the greatest loss along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. According to recent studies, the survival of Louisiana depends on the restoration of the wetlands that provide habitat for countless animals and plants. The wetlands also provide a buffer between the dry land of the state and the horrific hurricanes that have recently devastated the LeBranche Wetlands.

One goal of the Wetland Watchers service program is to create wetland awareness and help communicate with others the importance of the wetlands to the state and St. Charles Parish. Like the wetlands, the students and the service they provide to the wetlands represent the future of Louisiana.

“The program is good because it pressures others to do something to save the wetlands,” said Wetland Watchers student, Travis Ramos. Student, Sable Cureaux went on to say, “The program is great! Our work makes for a better world and future for our state.”

Students who have participated in the LeBranche Wetland service program have spoken to countless people across southeast Louisiana concerning wetland challenges and their value to the state and country. Students volunteer their services to help insure the survival of the wetlands. Along with community awareness, students have planted more than 2,500 trees and hosted functions within the community that have helped restore the LeBranche Wetland nature trails that were devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The group has gotten some national attention to their cause. The group was most recently recognized by the State Farm Youth Leadership for Service-Learning Excellence at the 17th Annual National Service-Learning Conference in Philadelphia. Along with two students, Guillot, traveled to Philadelphia to speak to an audience of over 2,500 that represented all 50 states and 41 countries. The award recognizes kindergarten through 12th grade service-learning programs and projects that demonstrate outstanding youth leadership. Applications for the award must be completed entirely by students along with an essay describing the benefits of their program.

In the essay written by Laila Cambre and Brooke McCray, the students wrote about their experience at the LeBranche Wetlands and their importance to the state of Louisiana, “Our service-learning project is helping the land in our own backyard-our local wetlands.
It is easy to see that slowing wetland loss is a great need to our community because the land is disappearing into the lake. Places we grew up fishing with our grandparents are now underwater.

As the open water moves closer to our communities, we have to really watch hurricanes because it floods so much easier. Many of the animals that we always see when we visit the wetlands are losing their homes and habitats. We were all surprised at how many people took our wetlands for granted and did not realize how important they are to so many aspects of out lives. So much of our community’s jobs, fun and protection depend upon our wetland areas.”
“Most people concentrate on the awards we get and we are proud of them, but we really like the grants we get. It allows us to continue to work to restore the future of the LeBranche Wetlands,” said student, Brooke McCray.


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