On Air: NYSG Offers New Curriculum, List of Environmental Book Recommendations
New York's Great Lakes: Ecosystem Education Exchange - News


Nate Drag, NYSG Great Lakes Literacy Specialist, E: nwd4@cornell.edu, P: 716-645-3610 

Filed by Finger Lakes Radio 

Buffalo, NY, September 14, 2021 - New York Sea Grant (NYSG) is offering new curriculum — on Lake Sturgeon, the Underground Railroad — as well as a recommended reading list full of environmental books.

As highlighted by NYSG Great Lakes Literacy Specialist Nate Drag in a segment on Finger Lakes Radio, the Great Lakes Ecosystem Education Exchange provides professional development for formal and informal teachers and educators, whether they are in a school classroom, at a nature center or even home schoolers.

You can listen to Drag's full conversation on Finger Lakes Radio ... 

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Full Transcript: 

Speaker1: [00:00:02] Good morning. 816 Finger Lakes morning news. We're zooming with Nate Drag. He is the New York Sea Grant Great Lakes Literacy Specialist. Also, he is the Associate Director of the Great Lakes Program at the University at Buffalo. Nate, welcome to the show. Glad to have you here.

Speaker2: [00:00:17] Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Speaker1: [00:00:18] So let's start with a little bit about you, where you're from and where you went to school and what led you to the twin paths of education and environmentalism?

Speaker2: [00:00:28] Sure. Well, it all started [00:00:30] when I was a kid growing up on Lake Erie. I grew up in a small town called Dunkirk, which is kind of halfway between Buffalo and Erie. And I was fortunate to grow up right next to Lake Erie. So there are some great beaches that I went to as a kid, and in high school I was actually a lifeguard at those beaches and that which I thought was just going to be a great summer job because you're outside all day, really kind of started my career working, both working on the Great Lakes and helping to protect them because I would sit on the lifeguard [00:01:00] stand and a lot of times the beaches would be closed for bacteria contamination or there would be dead fish washing up. And I started asking these questions, what's going on with the lake, this beautiful lake? We're so fortunate to have it, but something doesn't seem right. So that led me through college and graduate school. And then my career really is working with researchers to understand what's going on in the Great Lakes and then helping to educate the public, whether that's students in kindergarten through high school, college [00:01:30] students, elected officials, the general public, all about the amazing resources that are the Great Lakes and how the communities that depend on them really have an impact on them.

Speaker1: [00:01:41] Now, most of the. Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Speaker2: [00:01:43] Sorry. And that led me to my role here at Sea Grant, working really with teachers and students to connect them to the Great Lakes.

Speaker1: [00:01:51] Most of our Sea Grant conversations in the past have been on our Auburn station with Steve Penstone. We're being heard on WPGA in Geneva today. So tell us a little bit about the [00:02:00] mission of New York Sea Grant.

Speaker2: [00:02:02] Sea Grant is a collaborative initiative between Cornell University and the State University of New York, and it really focuses on using good science to inform good decisions in New York's coastal communities. And New York is unique because we have an ocean coast and a Great Lakes coast and a lot of smaller water bodies. We're one of the only states that has both those coasts, most other Sea Grants, they either focus on the ocean or just the Great Lakes. So [00:02:30] New York is pretty unique like that. And here in the Great Lakes region, in western and central New York, we focus on education. That's my work, but also coastal resiliency, understanding how our shorelines work and our fisheries. We have a lot of amazing fish that live in our lakes and we want to help protect those populations and restore some of them, like lake sturgeon, which we're starting to see more spawning and rivers like the Genesee. This is the first time that's happened in decades.

Speaker1: [00:02:57] Now, one of the things you do, the primary primary thing, I guess, [00:03:00] that you do is providing educational materials for for schools and environmental centers and all kinds of places. Are there a lot of schools in New York that are doing regular Sea Grant curriculum as part of what they do?

Speaker2: [00:03:12] Definitely. We've Sea Grant partners with the Department of Environmental Conservation on a program called the Great Lakes Ecosystem Education Exchange. And that program provides professional development for formal and informal teachers and educators, whether they are in a school classroom, [00:03:30] at a nature center or even home schoolers. We provide those workshops to connect teachers with science scientists, researchers, and to just kind of walk them through some of the resources that we develop. So in the last five years, we've had about 250 different educators go through our trainings and we've distributed all types of resources to them. We've developed three new ones recently focused on Lake Sturgeon, the Underground Railroad, as well as a recommended reading list full of environmental books. But [00:04:00] we also have resources that we can lend out to them science equipment, different monitoring, water quality tests, all types of cool stuff. And we have those in a thing called the Basin Bin, which focuses on the Great Lakes Basin, but we have about 15 of them across New York's Great Lakes region that teachers can borrow from us, use with their classrooms and then bring back and we share with other schools.

Speaker1: [00:04:21] Talking with Nate Drag from New York Sea Grant. So let's talk about this revival of the Lake Sturgeon. That has to be a good sign.

Speaker2: [00:04:28] It's great. They’re [00:04:30] such an amazing fish. You know, when I talk to kids and I say, Did you know there's a fish that can be eight feet long and up to 100 years old swimming in our local waters? Their minds go crazy. And a lot of times they assume it's like a shark or it's something that's going to eat them. But sturgeon, really, they're these gentle giants that have been in the Great Lakes for thousands of years. And due to overfishing, habitat change and pollution in the past, their numbers really plummeted. But there's [00:05:00] been a lot of work to restore their native spawning grounds in rivers like the Niagara River, the Genesee River, the Black River, the Saint Lawrence, to help this species, which they take a long time to reproduce. So we're really working with their partners, DEC, US Fish and Wildlife, to do a lot of that restoration, as well as the monitoring on these fish to see where they're spawning, where they're going. So it's a great sign for our region and it's a great teachable moment for [00:05:30] children because unfortunately we don't have dolphins and polar bears and these really charismatic animals in our region. But I think a sturgeon is really something that captures people's attention. And when they see how unique it is, it's something that they can hopefully, hopefully connect to and hopefully we see more of it because it's a great sign for our water quality and for our ecosystems.

Speaker1: [00:05:52] Yeah. Now let's talk about this freedom seekers curriculum, the Underground Railroad, Great Lakes and Science Literacy activities. So what is the connection [00:06:00] between the Underground Railroad and the Great Lakes?

Speaker2: [00:06:03] It's actually really interesting because when I was a student, the Underground Railroad was always covered in social studies or history. I never remember learning about that, that whole process and that migration in science. When you look at a lot of the individuals that were either guiding or going through the Underground Railroad, the role, the environment and natural ecosystems played in that was integral navigating by the stars. Knowing the local watersheds in which waterways connect to each other. [00:06:30] Understanding native plant and animal species. So Harriet Tubman's environmental knowledge is actually it was really impressive and going through this lesson plan, I've actually learned a lot too, and it's exciting how it features our region in western and central New York as a pivotal role in that historical process as well as right now. One of the activities that's one of my favorites focuses on a park in Buffalo, New York, called Broderick Park, which was one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before Canada. [00:07:00] You just had the Niagara River to cross over. And this activity puts students in the role of a consultant to the city of Buffalo, and they have to make recommendations for how they would incorporate the history, the current social context and the environment into a park redesign. So it's kind of fun because it's real world. This park exists, the history is there. It's a it's a unique environment because it's right on the Niagara River and it puts kids in in a role where they can see the career opportunities as well. So [00:07:30] it really tries to take a more holistic approach to some of these topics that traditionally have been in one discipline or the other. We're trying to always bring things together, which I think is more impactful for students.

Speaker1: [00:07:42] You have not only this curriculum available to teachers, you actually teach the teachers. You just did a development workshop with a bunch of teachers at Southwick Beach State Park. How does that work?

Speaker2: [00:07:53] It was actually a great summer project. We did four workshops across New York's Great Lakes and Evangola [00:08:00] State Park in western New York, Hamlin Beach, Fairhaven Beach and Southwick Beach all along Lake Ontario. So that was part of the Great Lakes Ecosystem Education Exchange, and it was a workshop to get teachers together. It's been a wild year for everyone, particularly in school, so I wanted to have a more casual outdoor setting. We were at picnic shelters in these beautiful parks, but I brought a whole bunch of resources with me. Everything that we've talked about here, as well as some kits from the Center for Great Lakes Literacy, which [00:08:30] is a Great Lakes wide initiative. And they have a lot of great resources around native fish and basic species, plastic pollution. And my goal is to share these resources with the teachers, kind of walk them through it, as well as have them teach me what are the challenges they're facing? How can we help their students? How can we help their efforts? You know, we say teach the teachers, but they're also teaching me. So it's a two way conversation, which I think is really great. And then we can build on those relationships up coming in this year and going forward. [00:09:00]

Speaker1: [00:09:00] You can find out more about these resources by calling the Buffalo office 716 645-3610 You can email Nate at SGBuffal without the O sgbuffal@cornell.edu to find out more about GLEE, the Great Lakes Basin Bin's Teaching the Teacher and all these various curriculums. This is great. I learned a lot today. I wasn't that familiar with Sea Grant myself, and I appreciate the chance to get more familiar and I hope we get to talk again in the future.

Speaker2: [00:09:27] That sounds good. Thanks, Ted.

More Info: New York Sea Grant

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York (SUNY), is one of 34 university-based programs under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program.

Since 1971, NYSG has represented a statewide network of integrated research, education and extension services promoting coastal community economic vitality, environmental sustainability and citizen awareness and understanding about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources.

Through NYSG’s efforts, the combined talents of university scientists and extension specialists help develop and transfer science-based information to many coastal user groups—businesses and industries, federal, state and local government decision-makers and agency managers, educators, the media and the interested public.

The program maintains Great Lakes offices at Cornell University, SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Oswego and the Wayne County Cooperative Extension office in Newark. In the State's marine waters, NYSG has offices at Stony Brook University in Long Island, Brooklyn College and Cornell Cooperative Extension in NYC and Kingston in the Hudson Valley.

For updates on Sea Grant activities: www.nyseagrant.org has RSS, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube links. NYSG offers a free e-list sign up via www.nyseagrant.org/nycoastlines for its flagship publication, NY Coastlines/Currents, which is published quarterly.

New York Sea Grant Home *  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Home

This website was developed with funding from the Environmental Protection Fund, in support of the Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act of 2006. 

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