Author: Annie Ferguson
Title: Connecting Community with Nature: The Environmental Learning Center
Category: Inspired by Nature
Description: The Environmental Learning Center (ELC) was conceived out of the need for a permanent presence for the Science and Math Institute (SAMi), a Tacoma public high school located within Point Defiance Park. Since its founding in 2009, SAMi has created a powerful community of learners that partners with the conservation and education mission of Metro Parks Tacoma and Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (PDZA). Amenities in the park include the Zoo and Aquarium, rose and rhododendron gardens, beaches, miles of trails and most notably, a stand of old growth forest. The new Environmental Learning Center is the first permanent facility designed around SAMi’s approach to education. Students explore and gather artifacts in the forest, Zoo and waterfront ecosystems, and bring them back to the Center to analyze, interpret and demonstrate so that upon return to nature they see it with new eyes. Students and teachers engage with community partners through citizen scientist workshops, interpretive exhibits, as well as advance the research and educational mission of the Park and Zoo. Designed to put student and partner work on display to the public, the new ELC is a community asset that supports greater understanding and appreciation of nature’s ecological systems and our relationship to them.