Teacher’s love of nature is contagious


Teacher Wendy Shelden, center, and Viera Wetlands ranger Ivan Green teach Williams Elementary School fourth graders how to identify plants and animals with field guides.

photo by Linda Wiggins

For Wendy Shelden, it’s a case of “love it or lose it.”

The science-focused teacher at Ralph Williams Elementary School hosted a field trip to the Ritch Grissom Memorial Viera Wetlands May 13 to teach all fourth-grade students at the school how to identify flora and fauna with guide books.

Williams Elementary School fourth grader Brandon Foret snaps a photo of an alligator during a May 13 field trip to the Viera Wetlands. | PHOTO BY LINDA WIGGINS

“I’m from California, way up in the mountains. Being outside and knowing nature was just a fact of my life growing up,” Shelden said. 

“But now, with all the [perceived] dangers of the outside world and all the technology that is encouraging people to stay indoors, parents aren’t allowing their kids to go outside as much, and they definitely aren’t able to explore natural settings. We’re losing touch with the natural world. If we don’t love something, we won’t take care of it and that scares me!”

Whether her students are gazing up at the stars and planets with telescopes and iPads on nights out, or wading in the Indian River Lagoon, organized field trips have gained the teacher a reputation that makes siblings look forward to being in her class.

“My older child had Mrs. Shelden and ever since, Dalton couldn’t wait to get her,” Linda Foster said of her son as she chaperoned the Viera Wetlands jaunt. “She’s very hands on and gets them excited about what they can find in nature. She’ll be moving up to teach fifth grade and she’ll be taking her entire class with her, so you can imagine that Dalton is ecstatic.”

Like Dalton, many of Shelden’s students have ranked high on the science fair circuit and won many awards inside and outside the school district.

Dalton’s science project won for the school and took best of show at the Brevard County district level March 5, also winning the Northrup Grumman Green Award and its $50 cash prize. His experiments involved testing dissolved oxygen and other quality levels in the water inside the lagoon and outside the locks toward the ocean. He also tested the areas near Sebastian, close to the inlet. His conclusion was that the Indian River Lagoon in Brevard would benefit from regular flushing with ocean water.

“I’ve definitely become more interested in nature, but beyond that,” Dalton said, “the activities we take on make me feel like the things I do can make a difference, and that I am able to do things.”

PHOTO BY LINDA WIGGINSAlready this past year, Dalton’s class has produced informational presentations geared toward students’ homeowners associations to make them aware that the use of certain types of fertilizers can contribute to the brown tide that caused a massive fish kill, which fired up students to action on their return from spring break.

In the coming year, Shelden’s class will expound on their research at the Viera Wetlands and produce public service announcements for future students, instructing them on the use of field guides to learn more about, and thus love and care more for nature.