‘Camperships’: FoT funds TBE students to Conservancy summer program

Lance Shearer

The Friends of Tigertail (FoT) want to keep the environmental ball rolling. Fully grown adults, many near or past retirement age, recognize that the future of the local ecosystems will depend on the stewardship of the rising generation.

With that in mind, the Friends group, a citizens’ support organization “dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing the natural features of Tigertail Beach,” has for years funded youth scholarships, or “camperships,” to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s summer environmental education programs.

Winners Sara Geddis, from left, Kayleigh Kemmish, and Ella Riley. The Friends of Tigertail awarded three "camperships" on Friday to Tommie Barfield students to attend a summer program at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Friday morning, representatives of FoT came to Tommie Barfield Elementary to present the awards to this year’s winners. This is the eighth year for the camperships, which go to fourth grade students, who will be back at TBE next year as upperclassmen.

The FoT provided two scholarships, each costing $285, and added another $25 to help with gas money to get the students to Conservancy headquarters in Naples. For the second year, a third scholarship was provided through a gift from Mary Ann Maniace, in memory of her father.

“My dad loved kids. We didn’t have much growing up, and I know he would like the idea of sending kids to learn about nature,” she said.

All fourth graders at TBE were invited to participate in the scholarship contest, by submitting a sample of writing, themed around local nature and conservation. In all, 16 students participated. The three winners, Sara Geddis, 9, and Ella Riley and Kayleigh Kemmish, both 10, each chose a different format for their entry.

Sara wrote a poem, “Joe’s Adventure,” about the experiences of a manatee trying to survive in today’s watery world of powerboats and oil spills. The first verse:

“A manatee named Joe swivels through the majestic deep blue ocean,

“When he hears slices of a silver chopping boat motor.

“He wonders, ‘what is all this commotion?’

“Looks like the ocean animals have a new problem.”

When she is older, said Sara, she wants to be a nature photographer, and is already shooting photos of wildlife every chance she gets.

Ella wrote a play, titled “The Rescue,” with dialogue, stage direction, and five different scenes, about two children who team up to rescue a sea turtle who has tangled with a plastic bag.

Kayleigh wrote an essay about her actual experiences studying and assisting sea creatures, “because I LOVE studying marine life and the habitats that support them!” She has collected or classified organisms including “sea cucumbers, urchins, horseshoe and spider crabs, egg sacs, sea horses, and baby fish. After we recorded our findings we put everything back into the seagrass. The seagrass was healthy!” she wrote.

Friday was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and the school was decorated in honor of the creator of the Lorax and Horton the elephant, among other protagonists who helped us remember that we are part of the natural world, and it is part of us. Tommie Barfield principal Kathryn Maya was wearing a tag designating her as “Thing 2,” from the Dr. Seuss classic “The Cat in the Hat.” She congratulated the students on their achievements, and thanked them for their efforts.

“You did a great job,” said Maya. “Have a fantastic Friday.”

Ken Kubat, treasurer of the FoT, made the presentations to the students, assisted by FoT board members Maniace and Allie Delventhal.

The three students were recognized during the school’s regular morning announcements, which are televised by a crew of fifth graders under the direction of media specialist (they used to be called librarians) Mary Beth Schneller, and beamed into each classroom.

The Friends of Tigertail recently held their annual “Discover Tigertail,” and will host a beach cleanup on Saturday, April 14, giving people another great chance to get out and walk the beach.