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Friday, May 6, 2016

Teaching appreciation of nature

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

BV County Naturalist Lisa Meusburger reaches students in every school in the county sharing her love for the environment and God's creatures

Buena Vista County Naturalist Lisa Meusburger has a very important goal - to create an environmental awareness in kids and adults and to teach them they must be stewards of the earth.

For the past 15 years, she has conducted environmental programs in schools throughout the county, reaching students from kindergarten to high school. Classes designed for adults have also been held.

Her schedule is hectic - sometimes four classes a day in different schools - but she truly enjoys her job.

She hopes that the programs will spark an interest in nature which will persuade them to take care of their surroundings. She comes into contact with some 15,000 students each year through her programs.

Meusburger meets with the kindergarten through sixth grade teachers of 10 BV County schools each fall to plan their schedules. Each teacher can select five environmental programs they wish for Meusburger to share with their students throughout the school year. The list of programs seems endless: Animal Classification, Awesome Spiders and Their Allies, Bats, Birds, Botany 101, Butterflies, Cross-Country Skiing, Eddie Eagle Gun Safety, Enviroscape, Fossils, Group Fishing, Hibernation, Hiking, Home Sweet Home-Habitats, Iowa Nature Series, Insects, Lewis and Clark, Mammals and Their Tracks, Native Iowa Animals, Nature's Way, Nocturnal Predators, Oceans and Sea Life, Penguins, Pollution Solutions, Pretty But Poisonous, Rain Forests, Recycling and the Environment, Rocks and Minerals, Something for Everyone-Careers, Star Lab, Ten Yard Hike, Tree Identification, Weather, Wild Wetlands and Woodland and Prairie Flowers.

She works closely with the teachers. "My programs enhance the units (they are working on in school). I'm not trying to replace the information learned in the classroom. Another thing that comes out of my visits is that they learn respect; how to act with visitors in the classroom."

The introduction of new words is also important, for example, the word "nocturnal" was most likely learned by many of BV County's students from Meusburger's classes.

The furs, fossils, rocks and minerals that she brings into the classrooms are always of great interest. The programs are 30-45 minutes in length but are jam packed with information. Hands-on activities are offered when possible. Such examples are the dissecting of owl pellets, the opportunity to touch the furs she has authority to have, and to touch the unique rocks and minerals.

She does reach some of the junior high students and is on hand at high school career day. She does make her way into some care centers to share information with the residents there.

Meusburger recently wrote a new program for Family Steps, an organization for young moms, on simple recreational activities for moms and kids to take part in together. The program was well received.

Day camps are organized and held each summer at various county parks for youth to participate in and she often incorporates a program to go along with the summer library reading program theme and makes many stops at the county's libraries. In the winter months, cross country skiing classes are held. A fishing contest is held the first Saturday in June each year for the youth. For some of them, this is the first time they have ever been fishing.

Meusburger has written many of the programs she takes into the classrooms; she continually adds new information, new visuals and even adds new topics to make things interesting for the students and for herself.

"The programs are never the same because the kids aren't the same," the naturalist said. "I don't walk in a classroom thinking I know it all because I see something different everyday."

She added that many naturalists remain on the job only a few years and leave due to burn out.

"If you don't work on the programs, they become monotonous," she said. She has "outlived" many naturalists with 15 years on the job and plans to remain for many more.

She is currently working on a class that will deal with alternative energy.

Meusburger earned a degree in horticulture several years ago and operated a green house business. She wanted something different, that dealt with the environment, and heard about the job of a naturalist. At the time, in the '80s, there were only about 40 naturalists in the state of Iowa. That interest has grown and there are well over 120 naturalists in the state today.

She shared that the state of Iowa is rather unique in that most of the 99 counties has a naturalist (larger counties have more than one, of course.)

"Iowa has done a good job. There are some states that don't have naturalists."

Meusburger knows many kids absorb and retain the environmental information she shares. She feels fortunate to be able to have a career that she enjoys so much and that she has had the opportunity to watch the students grow. "That's pretty cool," she said, adding that older students even often come up to her in public and tell her they remember her and name off things they have learned from her.

The programs are all a free service provided by the county. She is available to speak to organizations as well (but the schools get first shot at her). For more information, you may contact her at 749-2563 or go to the website - www.bvcountyconservation.com

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