All right, everybody listen up.
Narrator: When Barry Guilliot speaks, his students listen.
Barry: So you're all able to leave a legacy for our seventh-graders for next year by planting these seeds.
Narrator: It could be his imposing 6-foot, 5-inch frame, or it could be his impressive background.
Barry: I was a bouncer in a barroom while I was in college in a popular place on Bourbon Street, and I was a sergeant in the Army for five years, and I figured, after all that, it really prepared me just perfectly to be a middle-school teacher [laughs].
Narrator: Mostly, people listen to Guilliot because they've come to believe in his crusade to transform education through service learning.
Barry: Stick your finger down in the hole and drop both seeds in there. Cover it up good.
Narrator: At Hurst Middle School in Destrehan, Louisiana, his seventh-grade students learn about the environment by preserving part of it, their own backyard.
Barry: This is a project called Coastal Roots, and the Coastal Roots is to help the kids appreciate their wetlands and give them a feeling of ownership by doing something to help stop the wetland loss. One of the key ways of doing that is by planting trees. Having the kids being able to grow the tree from seeds just makes such a big difference to them. They can see how it all starts from this little thing. Plus, that's what we have to teach them anyway. Everything that we do has to be standards-based. If it's not standards-based, we don't do it. So not only are they learning, but they're also helping out. They're making a difference, and that, in middle school, where they're really trying to figure out who they are and where they're going, being able to be a positive, contributing member of the community, I think, is so important.
Narrator: Guilliot started the Wetland Watchers program in 1998 after seeing the educational value of a service-learning trip he took with seventh-graders to the nearby LaBranche Wetlands. His students now plant trees, monitor water quality...
What's our temperature reading?
26 and a half.
Narrator: ...and educate others about the wonders of and the threats to their ecosystem.
Student: Hi. Welcome to the Louisiana Wetland Watchers. Today we will talk about the American alligator, which is native to Louisiana.
Narrator: The program started with meetings to gain the support of a few local businesses and government agencies.
Man: The feedback I get from our new business partners is, "This is amazing! I wish I had known about it sooner."
Narrator: Today the program has 35 partners who donate time and money to the project's yearlong activities, which culminate in a Wetland Celebration at the end of the school year.
Kimberly: We initially started off with roughly five volunteers. We're now up to fifty this year that solely work with the LaBranche Wetland Watchers, which is absolutely incredible.
Man: How about this area right through here?
Man: Louisiana, exactly.
Lorel: When I go out there with the students and I see them throwing their nets in the lake and I'm like, "One of those children are going to fall into that lake," but they haven't yet and hopefully they never will. But I think it's just important for them to get involved in the whole lesson. You know, not just to read about it, not just to hear from teacher about it, but to actually live it.
Narrator: Even in the classroom, learning involves hands-on activity.
Barry: Have you all ever seen an alligator before? Do they have sharp teeth? Ooh, does he nip at you?
Narrator: Seventh-graders become experts in a subject by sharing their knowledge with preschoolers.
Girl: This is an Australian Bearded Dragon. He's native to Louisiana, and if you want to touch him, you can touch him with two fingers on his lower back.
Kurt: This represents the scales of the alligator. Hard, tough, this is to keep it away from its natural predators.
Narrator: Fun is also a key part of the learning process, as in this illustration of alligator adaptations.
Kurt: Please stick out your left hand. I said "left."
Kurt: Okay, you need to spend a little more time at school. Now, the hand is webbed on an alligator.
Kurt: This has probably been my favorite class in my school so far because it's the one that's been the most interactive and most interesting to me.
Waggle your tail.
Kurt: I've been able to learn a lot more through these programs than I probably have sitting behind a desk copying notes off of a chalkboard.
Okay, they use that big old tail to sway it back and forth, and it shoots it through the water like a bullet.
Kurt: Mr. Guilliot is probably one of the best teachers you can get. He's kind of like a big kid, and he'll do the activities with you where you can see firsthand the right way to do it and the fun way to do it.
Barry: Good job, guys. Now keep up the good work.
Narrator: Even in the face of gloom, Guilliot maintains his sense of optimism. When a downpour forced the cancellation of a field trip to the wetlands, he asked his team of experts to bring their exhibits to the school.
Barry: All right, we got a special treat here.
Narrator: The rainfall even provided a rare treat.
Barry: Christian caught this outside of his house in the flood yesterday. Even though he looks like a snake or something like that, he's amphibian, and Miss Cheryl is going to tell you all about him right now.
Cheryl: It's called an amphiuma, okay?
Barry: And you know what's neat about teaching like that is assessment occurs in so many different ways. If I'm just lecturing, I can look and see who's still awake, but I can't really see who's understanding.
Student: Oh, so, he's black on the top and white on the bottom?
Cheryl: That's right, just like a lot of fish. It's a type of camouflage.
Barry: When we're busy jumping into it and they're fooling with stuff and moving it around and all that, I can see. I can go over and ask them, "By the way, what is that?"
Barry: Why would it be white on the bottom and dark on top?
So it could probably hide itself.
And looking up, it probably blends with the air.
Cheryl: That's right, blends with the sky.
Barry: When you're looking down, it looks like the mud. If something's underneath and looking up, it looks like the light. Very good.
Barry: And that's an on-the-spot assessment right there. You see, do they understand it or not?
Man: What would you all think would fall out of the water first?
Narrator: Guilliot sees the value of having more than one voice of authority in his classroom.
Man: Now, you can actually see the particles of sand with your bare eye.
Kind of like little crystals.
Barry: As I know I'm not a soil expert, where I can call in my ag and forestry guy from Louisiana Ag and Forestry. He's been studying dirt for 15 years. I understand that they have all these experts out here that are willing to come in and work with my students, and I want to use that so my students are getting the benefit of this.
Milton: If you look at the first picture, you see nothing but water, and as we've progressed, you can see now where you have the land.
Milton: You can learn an awful lot from a textbook, but if you can show them different things, it's so much more enlightening, and a lot of these kids, you know, you can just see their eyes open up and say, "Ooh. Ah. Oh, look at this!" So, hey, you know you're getting to them.
We're going to have a beautiful park out there, and nobody's going to realize that hey, that was once a lake?
Milton: If a little project like this can have such an impact on them, maybe this will ring true to them and they'll say, "Hey, something can be done."
Barry: The factors that affect pH levels...
Narrator: For Guilliot, empowering students is the most rewarding part of the job.
Barry: One of the essays I read said, "If the animals and plants could talk, I think they would say we're their heroes because that's the way I feel when we do our work in the wetlands." And it just, you know, it hits you. As a teacher, you say, "Oh, my God. Something that I designed made this kid feel like a hero?" And I was like, "Man, that is just so cool." And, gosh, even if they don't remember an adaptation for an animal, if they just remember that feeling, then I feel like I've been successful, and I really love that responsibility as a teacher. I don't want to be a principal. I don't want to be a superintendent. I want to be a teacher where I deal with these kids every day down in the trenches. And I love watching the light go on. I just love it.
-That's perfect. So you all do that for every corner in that graph, okay? Good job, guys.
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to Edutopia.org.