Ducks Unlimited Certification Raises Expectations for Environmental Science Students

Polk County, Florida is a fast-growing, diverse community nestled between Orlando and Tampa. With 10% of the county's 2,000 square miles covered by water, many of its neighborhoods, cities, and farms border freshwater wetlands and lakes. Waterfowl, bobcats, alligators, and other unique wildlife call the wetlands home too.

The ninth grade Environmental Science students at Frostproof Middle - Senior High School at Polk County Schools now have a deeper understanding of the complicated relationship between humans and wetlands. At the end of the 2022-23 school year, almost 80% of the environmental science students earned a Ducks Unlimited (DU) Ecology Conservation & Management Certification. At the start of the year, only half of the students had ever even spent time in nature.

“By completing the curriculum, the students are now grounded in the principles of science and conservation,” says Michael Mury, Curriculum Specialist - Science at Polk County Schools. “Here in central Florida where we have all this population growth happening, they can see how changes in human activity are going to affect the world around them.”

Environmental Science Students Exceed Expectations

Polk County Schools is the 30th largest school district in the U.S. and seventh largest in Florida. As part of an effort to invest in STEM high school education, the district selected the Ducks Unlimited Ecology Conservation & Management Certification, hosted on the iCEV Testing Platform for a pilot program for ninth grade Environmental Science. It is almost an exact match with the Florida Environmental Science Framework and comes with detailed lesson plans, projects and activities, handouts, and assessments. The Environmental Science teacher at Frostproof Middle-Senior High used the program with high fidelity and was fully committed to helping her students exceed expectations.

Polk County students take Environmental Science in 9th grade unless they are on the honors track. Some of the students in the Frostproof class struggled with reading. Despite their academic challenges, the students thrived.

Thirty seven of the 47 students passed the end-of-year exam, earning the DU certification and acceleration points from the state of Florida. They also gained a sense of pride in themselves. They were recognized at the school’s awards night by school and district leaders, an honor many never thought they’d receive.

“Students told their science teacher that ‘I've never been recognized for anything in my life,’” says Mury. “They wore the medals they received at the ceremony for a whole week.”

Mury is hoping this triumph continues to propel students forward. He says, “Most importantly the kids feel like they can be successful and that they can do science. Hopefully this gets them all to graduation.”

Experiencing Real-World Benefits

Mury attributes part of the success to their teacher using the certification to set a meaningful goal for students. Not only did the students receive a tangible reward for their hard work, but they are more prepared to enter a growing career field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts wildlife ecology and management jobs to grow 8% through 2026.

Their teacher also provided varied opportunities for students to engage with the material, often with hands-on activities. The students got out of their seats, moved around the room – and sometimes even got out of the classroom to explore the wetlands. They were excited to come to class every day and could see the real-world applications to what they were learning.

Mury adds: “Sometimes students think that I’m not going to be a scientist, so why am I taking science? We all need to think scientifically. In this class, students are empowered to believe that their thought process matters and that what they’re doing matters.”

The Environmental Science students' achievements will result in benefits across the district. Because the students earned acceleration points for passing a state-approved industry certification, Florida will provide funding for the teacher to invest in classroom materials. A drone to explore the wetlands is at the top of the teacher’s wish list. She will also receive a $25 bonus for each student who earned a passing score on the exam.

With so many students passing the exam, Frostproof’s school grade will improve significantly when the students become seniors. As a result, every teacher in the school may receive a $1,000 bonus from the state. 


Expanding Usage

This success has sparked excitement across Polk County. In the 2023-2024 school year, 12 high schools will now use the Ducks Unlimited Ecology Conservation & Management Certification curriculum for ninth grade Environmental Science. Mury is using this as an opportunity to build connections between teachers in a school district where it can take an hour to drive between high schools.

“Getting teachers to know each other and getting teachers to work together is an important part of the program,” says Mury. “We brought the teachers from the 12 schools who are using the curriculum together the other day. They've already sent numerous emails sharing ideas for class activities. They’re really excited for the coming school year.”



About iCEV

Since 1984, iCEV has specialized in providing quality CTE curriculum and educational resources. iCEV is the most comprehensive online resource for CTE educators and students, offering curriculum for several major subject areas, including agricultural science, trade & industrial education, business & marketing, career exploration, family & consumer science, health science, law enforcement and STEM education. Additionally, iCEV acts as a testing platform for industry certifications. Leading companies and organizations utilize iCEV as the testing platform for their certifications. For more information, visit www.icevonline.com.