US Army Corps of Engineers
Jacksonville District

The student connection: Corps employees reach out to local schools

Published June 19, 2013
Outreach program specialist and former middle school teacher Erica Skolte spoke to eighth grade students at Polo Park Middle School about what the Everglades were like prior to being altered by man.

Outreach program specialist and former middle school teacher Erica Skolte spoke to eighth grade students at Polo Park Middle School about what the Everglades were like prior to being altered by man.

Students examine a tracking collar that was used on an endangered Florida panther.

Students examine a tracking collar that was used on an endangered Florida panther.

Students examined a lime rock core sample from the C-111 Spreader Canal project, part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The sample has many holes, almost like Swiss cheese, and illustrates one of the challenges of Everglades restoration – keeping the water in the natural areas, when water moves quickly underground.

Students examined a lime rock core sample from the C-111 Spreader Canal project, part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). The sample has many holes, almost like Swiss cheese, and illustrates one of the challenges of Everglades restoration – keeping the water in the natural areas, when water moves quickly underground.

Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, deputy commander for south Florida, spoke to students about Everglades restoration and careers with the Corps.

Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, deputy commander for south Florida, spoke to students about Everglades restoration and careers with the Corps.

Now that the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests (FCATs) are over for the year, both teachers and students are breathing a sigh of relief. Teachers are eager to bring in enriching and interesting activities to keep the students engaged as the school year draws to a close.

For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, this time of year provides an opportunity to educate future engineers and scientists on the breadth of the district’s work and the contributions it makes to the quality of life in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. All Corps team members are representatives for the Corps in their own communities. Every interaction provides a potential opportunity to share information about the district’s programs and projects.

When Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, deputy commander for south Florida, made a visit to his eldest son’s school, Polo Park Middle School, he left with an offer to return to do a presentation on Everglades restoration.

Surprisingly, the offer came not from a science teacher, but rather from his son’s math teacher, Jim Ring. Earlier in the year, Ring told Greco, “I would like to do something at the school regarding Everglades restoration that might get our students interested in the environmental sciences and engineering.”

Ring saw this presentation as a starting point for bigger things, including moving the school toward a specialized curriculum. “With the Everglades restoration project in our own back yard, we as educators should take advantage of all of the exciting things that are going on in south Florida. This is something that the students should be knowledgeable about, and might want to consider as a career path.”

Greco, an instructor at West Point prior to working with the Corps, spoke about the changes in south Florida over time, and highlighted what is being done to restore the area now.

Teachers and students were also interested in careers with the Corps. “We have careers in a broad variety of areas including STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Greco.

When it comes to STEM, the Corps has no shortage of excellent role models. When her daughter’s teacher requested parent participation in Career Week, Linda Knoeck, a project manager and biologist in the Palm Beach Gardens Regulatory Office answered the call.

“I decided to volunteer when I noticed that there were no professional women on the agenda,” said Knoeck.

Knoeck gave a presentation to her daughter Avery’s fourth grade class at Beacon Cove Intermediate Elementary School in Jupiter. She discussed her responsibilities and described the types of projects that she evaluates. Knoeck explained to the students how wetlands act as natural filters, and demonstrated the importance of the type of sand that is allowed to be placed on Florida beaches.

“The children really enjoyed looking at all the beautiful pictures of the endangered and threatened animals found in the waters of the U.S. within Florida. It helped them to understand why it is important to regulate potential impacts to these animals and their habitat,” said Knoeck.

“Our Everglades restoration and regulatory programs provide an outstanding way to teach students about the importance of a healthy south Florida ecosystem, and also inspire interest in STEM,” said Greco.