China takes notice of unique parish program

Barry Guillot addressing Youth Service America about Wetland Watchers.

Barry Guillot became a teacher to make a difference, but he didn’t anticipate Wetland Watchers having an impact in China.

“I just finished a really interesting interview with researchers at Columbia University and an educator from China interested in writing modules for Chinese middle schools that involve their students in real-world sustainability issues and strategies to give their students a voice in their communities,” Guillot said. “Wetland Watchers Service-Learning Program is one of the programs they chose to model.”

Service learning is an educational approach that combines learning objectives with community service to provide a learning experience while meeting societal needs.

“They’re looking for ways for the students to have a voice in their community, and like the way with the Watchers that the students are doing the speaking and outreaches,” Guillot said. “I really felt good about that because that’s one of the things I felt was strong about Wetland Watchers. I always told the kids you have no right to complain how things are going if you’re just sitting in the stands. You really need to be down in the field playing to make a difference.”

Researchers, which included a member from China, interviewed Guillot for an hour and completed four hours of paperwork about the program. Part of the discussion was about teacher buy-in and how to get students to stay after school for the program, as well as focusing on tests.

Despite students having activities competing for their time, Guillot said they still make room for Wetland Watchers.

“I think they are really excited about the passion of the students and the commitment they have and how they replicate that so the middle school students are excited about learning,” Guillot said.

The discussion focused on giving children a voice and solving real world problems.

Guillot said Wetland Watchers ranks as one of the Top 10 sustainability educational programs in the U.S.

Service learning can even help students make vocational choices, he said. Many Wetland Watcher students have gone on to work in environmental sciences and become vets.

“It takes a lot of extra time on my part, but you see that learning, enthusiasm and excitement and that’s what I love to see in the kids,” he said. “I always say I became a teacher so I could make a difference in other people’s lives. Maybe, something I did will fix somebody in China now.”

Guillot said that with any country, the young people are their strength.

“I mean if these young people are given some freedom to solve some of the problems that they have then they maybe can see that as a good thing,” he said. “That’s their future.”

Watchers getting attention

  • June 30, 2009: Diane Sawyer hosts the ABC Children Protecting Our Planet special that features Harry Hurst Middle School’s Wetland Watchers Service-Learning Project. The students are also highlighted in the George Lucas Education Foundation documentary, “Wetland Watchers: Kids Care For Their Environment.”
  • Aug. 13, 2009: Dave McNamara of Bayou Digital Media partnered with WWL-TV in New Orleans to create a series,  “Green 4 Louisiana” initiative, that included Wetland Watchers.
  • Nov. 22, 2010: Wetland Watchers participated in the NBA New Orleans Hornets “Save the Wetlands Night at the New Orleans Arena.”
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