Stephen F. Austin State University hosted its 20th annual Bugs, Bees, Butterflies and Blossoms program April 24 through 28 in the SFA Mast Arboretum on campus. Dr. Alan Sowards, co-founder of the BBBB program and professor in SFA's Department of Elementary Education, has participated in the program since its inception in 1997. Pictured, Sowards discusses butterflies with a student.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Stephen F. Austin State University's Mast Arboretum was buzzing with activity recently as thousands of elementary school students participated in the 20th annual Bugs, Bees, Butterflies and Blossoms program on the university's campus.

From learning about the life cycle of trees to holding decomposers, more than 3,000 elementary school students from across East Texas participated in this collaborative program in which SFA elementary education students teach environmental science through hands-on activities.

"SFA students have gained a tremendous amount from this hands-on experience, including confidence for teaching environmental science," said Dr. Alan Sowards, co-founder of the BBBB program and professor in SFA's Department of Elementary Education. "Students learn the importance of collaboration and classroom management, as well as the importance of seeking community partners and resources to assist them in their classroom teaching, regardless of the subject area."

The benefits of the BBBB program are twofold. Sowards said the participating school districts gain a great resource to help engage their students in science activities in the outdoors and also gain a greater appreciation for the beauty of nature firsthand.

There were daily morning and afternoon sessions. To help celebrate the program's 20th year, SFA hosted a luncheon and reception for representatives from various state and local agencies, organizations, and university administrators and local teachers in the Brundrett Conservation Education Building in the Pineywoods Native Plant Center.

Following the luncheon, teachers had the opportunity to attend a Project Learning Tree professional development workshop where Misty Bowie, Texas coordinator for PLT, and John Boyette of Texas A&M Forest Service delivered a presentation.

"This training helped teachers learn how to facilitate environmental education lessons in their classroom," Sowards said. "Each teacher received a PLT activity manual and certificate."

Sowards recalled how this event began as an idea between him and Dr. Cheryl Boyette, education consultant, in 1997.

"We developed and implemented this program together from the very beginning," Sowards said. "We have collected research about this program, published articles from our research, and presented at state, national and international conferences."

Additionally, John Boyette has assisted in training SFA students in the Project Learning Tree curriculum, and Elyce Rodewald, SFA Gardens environmental education coordinator, has assisted in many ways, including scheduling schools to attend, serving as a liaison with the public/private schools, and providing resources and training. Dr. Paula Griffin, coordinator of SFA's online completer's program, has added another dimension to the program by involving SFA online students.

"The past 20 years have gone by so fast. I am most proud of the quality of students I have been blessed to work with through the years," Sowards said. "SFA has the best education program and students in the state. They have met my highest expectations as future teachers and will do well in wherever they teach."

The BBBB program originally ran for two days; however, due to high demand, BBBB has grown into a weeklong event.

"I am thankful for the many partners and colleagues who have worked with us," Sowards said. "I've observed first-grade elementary students participate in BBBB 20 years ago, and then had those same students enroll at SFA and teach at BBBB while in college. Now, those SFA students have become teachers in the area and bring their own students to BBBB. The program has come full circle."

Event sponsors included Project Learning Tree, Keep Nacogdoches Beautiful, Texas A&M Forest Service, SFA's Department of Elementary Education, the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, and SFA Gardens.

Stephen F. Austin State University elementary education student Jalen Herring teaches students about bees during the Bugs, Bees, Butterflies and Blossoms program at the university campus.