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Girl Scouts Conserving the Tropics!

Number 21 - December 2000

C. Baldyga






At Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami Florida, a collaboration with the Girl Scouts resulted in new badges that the girls can earn in Native Plant Identification and Conservation. Formal and informal assessment is integrated into all Girl Scout program management and is a basic component of education program development at Fairchild. By implementing existing familiar assessment methods and field testing all components, the partnership between Fairchild and the Girl Scouts created plant identification and conservation activities suitable for girls of different ages and ability levels, and for their adult leaders. The badges can be earned at Fairchild, at a natural area, or at Girl Scout summer camps where actual conservation activities are conducted as a component of the badge program.

Tropical Heritage Project 

Fairchild Tropical Garden and the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida, Inc. received a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in May 1998. The project, Tropical Heritage, involved the development of four products aimed at teaching Girl Scouts and other children about native plant species and conservation. These include: the Tropical Heritage Native Plant Patch, a Brownie Girl Scout Conservation Badge, a Junior Girl Scout Conservation Badge, and an Enviro-kit containing resource materials to help scouts earn these emblems. Evaluation was integrated throughout activity development and implementation. Girl Scouts are accustomed to using evaluation methods to guide program development and determine effectiveness.

Assessment methods developed by Girl Scouts and the project team had a significant impact on the success of the collaboration to make Tropical Heritage activities appropriate for girls of varying ages and abilities.

Miami-Dade County is a sprawling metropolitan urban area. Many adults and children spend little time outdoors, so we wanted to assess their willingness to participate in activities related to the natural environment. Adult Girl Scout leaders participated in front-end assessment to determine the communitie's interest in native plants and conservation, their knowledge about these topics and their willingness to learn and teach about them. Results from a questionnaire, administered at training workshops for leaders, revealed a high degree of interest in the proposed project and a willingness to participate with scouts in the eradication of exotic pest plants at Girl Scout Camp locations. A similar questionnaire was administered to Girl Scouts to determine if they would be interested in activities to earn the Native Plant and Conservation badges.

The leaders' questionnaire addressed personal interest and comfort in experiencing outdoor activities related to nature, knowledge of environmental issues in South Florida, willingness to lead outdoor nature activities, willingness to visit Fairchild Tropical Garden with the Girl Scout group to learn about native plants, and acceptance of the Tropical Heritage patch and Conservation badge as appropriate Girl Scout activities.

Native Plant or Conservation Badges Assesments

The front-end assessment conducted with girls elicited ‘Yes/No’ responses to questions about their interest in science, interest in outdoor activities, knowledge of plants and the environment, and willingness to work toward a Native Plant or Conservation badge. We also asked if the girls had previously visited Fairchild Tropical Garden. To gain additional information about proposed Tropical Heritage activities, we conducted a sample program at Girl Scout Special events and summer camps. Informal recorded observation added to our understanding of the girls' ability to follow instructions and participate in activities. Girls were asked if they were interested in learning more about native plants and responses were recorded. Questions were open-ended and administration was either written or oral. In addition to providing valuable planning data, groups of scouts who participated in sample activities began to sign up for leader training and participation. During routine evaluation of Girl Scout special events and camp experiences, girls and leaders listed Tropical Heritage as a preferred activity for the coming year. Implementing both Fairchild and Girl Scout assessment methods demonstrated a strong commitment by both organizations to the Tropical Heritage program.

Formative assessment consisted of field testing all activities and materials with scouts at Fairchild or at Girl Scout camps. We observed and recorded the ability of leaders to conduct the activities, how well girls followed instructions, their success at identifying native plants and communicating their knowledge to others, and their understanding of terms such as habitat, exotic, ecosystem and native plant. Learning aids were developed to help leaders and girls identify the leaves of native trees and shrubs. A paper and pencil activity for older girls was replaced by expanded field-based activities that focused on plant characteristics.

Summative assessment for the Native Plant patch consisted of verification that Girl Scouts can identify at least five native plant species, distinguish leaf types, recognize the sabal palm (official Florida palm), identify mangroves and observe wildlife in a natural area, park or botanical garden. The Conservation badge assessment included completion of five of seven activities presented. These included selecting a local ecosystem to visit and research uses for the area, conducting a species diversity test in a 10 metre area, researching the history of the Everglades water flow, determining the wildlife habitat requirements for a local neighborhood and planning a landscape that will support them, and investigating careers in conservation and using the Internet to learn about natural areas. Conservation badges earned at a Girl Scout camp location included identification and removal of invasive exotic plants and replacement with species native to that region. Camps are located in three different south Florida environments. The appropriate patch or badge is presented upon completing the activities.

The Native Plant Badge can be earned at Fairchild Tropical Garden or at another site. Leader training was provided at regularly scheduled Girl Scout workshops. Girls aged 6-15 learn basic plant identification skills, identify native plant species including mangrove, and hardwood hammock species. They focus on endangered species and the need to conserve habitats. Families can earn the Tropical Heritage patch at Fairchild by completing activities presented in an Enviro-kit available at the entrance.

The Brownie Conservation Badge teaches girls aged 6-8 the basics of conservation. They learn the importance of conserving the natural world and are encouraged to try some conservation measures at home. Each girl grows a native wildflower and learns about important roles many women have played in conservation.

The Junior Conservation badge for girls aged 8-12, builds upon the Brownie Conservation badge. Participants investigate an ecosystem in their local area and participate in at least one conservation activity. Sampling species diversity, designing a backyard wildlife habitat, learning about careers in conservation, and researching ethnobotany are among the activities from which they can select to complete the badge requirements.

Tropical Heritage Enviro-kits contain all of the resource materials required for earning the patch or badges, as well as supplemental games, hand lenses, a resource booklet and laminated field guides. The kits are available for check out at Fairchild, the Girl Scout offices and the Miami-Dade County Public Libraries.


During the course of the grant cycle, Tropical Heritage was introduced at local Girl Scout summer camps, special events, and at the Fairchild Ramble, a garden festival. Articles on Tropical Heritage have appeared in the Girl Scout publications sent to leaders and families of scouts.

Presentations have been made at the annual conferences of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, the Association of Science and Technology Centers and the Girl Scouts of American Annual Meeting. Support from the Girl Scouts has been strong and many leaders are inquiring about conservation projects at camps and other natural areas.

Evaluation has been a significant component in the development of Tropical Heritage badges that will be attractive to target audiences. It has guaranteed that program activities are effective and appropriate to the needs and interests of leaders and scouts. The desired outcome, measurable activities that increase awareness of the importance of plants and the need to conserve them, will continue to be a collaborative goal of Fairchild Tropical Garden and the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida.

Les Scouts au Service de la Conservation en Région Tropicale!


Au Fairchild Tropical Garden une collaboration avec la section féminine des scouts a conduit à créer des labels récompensant la capacité à identifier et conserver les plantes indigènes. Une évaluation formelle et informelle est intégrée dans le programme des scouts; celle-ci fait également partie du programme d’éducation de Fairchild. En mettant en œuvre les méthodes d’évaluation habituelles et en testant sur le terrain tous les éléments, ce partenariat a permis de mettre en place des activités d’identification de plantes et un programme de conservation adaptées aux jeunes filles d’âges et de capacités différents ainsi que pour leurs accompagnants. Les labels peuvent être acquis à Fairchild, dans une réserve naturelle ou pendant un camp d’été durant lequel des actions de conservation sont menées dans le cadre de ce programme.

Las Girl Scouts Conservan las Plantas en los Tropicos!


En el Fairchild Tropical Garden (Jardin Tropical de Fairchild) la colaboracion con las Girl Scouts ha resultado en nuevos emblemas que pueden conseguir las chicas en la identificacion de plantas autoctonas y en la conservacion. Los asesoramientos formales e informales se integran en la gestion de todos los programas de las Girl Scouts y es un componente basico del desarollo de los programas educativos en Fairchild. Usando metodos de asesoramiento familiares y ya existentes y comprobando todos los componentes sobre el terreno la colaboracion creo actividades en la identificacion de plantas y en la conservacion, adecuadas para chicas de diferentes edades y abilidades y para sus lideres adultos. Los emblemas se pueden conseguir en Fairchild, en algun espacio natural o en los campamentos de verano de los Girl Scouts donde se llevan a cabo actividades practicas de conservacion como un componente del programa de emblemas.