The Natural - Page 2
Through the course of a school year, Pires and FGCU students she has trained work with small groups of fourth- and fifth-grade students in area public schools, involving them in hands-on experiences designed to make them aware of the plight of the endangered Florida panther, the importance of conserving water and the need to protect the state’s flora and fauna.
Students take part in classroom activities, keep journals about what they learn and visit Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW), a vast wilderness perserve that includes Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. They become members of the Panther Posse, serving as panther biologists as they learn to identify wildlife signs, using compasses and ground positioning systems. On another day, they take part in scavenger hunts in which they look for various forms of wildlife, water and resources. They get family and friends involved through simple activities such as watching a sunset together or taking a hike, activities today’s busy families rarely do, Pires says. At the end of the course, each student receives a photo of a panther kitten.
The program is funded through grants by various environmental organizations and governmental agencies.
It was her passionate commitment and impressive results that won her this year’s Alumni Association honor. “It’s our distinct pleasure to honor Ricky Pires with the Alumna of Distinction Award,” says Kevin Price, chair of the FGCU Alumni Association’s awards selection committee. “Her work with the Wings of Hope program has been a shining example of the quality of our graduates and their ability to make a positive impact on a local, regional and national scale.
“In light of the recent oil spill in the gulf, it’s more important than ever that we inspire our youth to play an active role in protecting our wildlife.” Despite the impressive number of people she’s already reached, Pires has bigger plans. She wants to take Wings of Hope to other colleges around the nation in hopes they’ll create their own versions. And, who knows? Maybe she can reach further still. “Oprah has her girls’ school in Africa,” she says. “They need to know about the natural world, too.”