Displaced students see habitat restored, protected by GBF program

Anahuac High School teacher Corena Fitzgerald’s house floated two miles down her street when Hurricane Ike hit in 2008. Eight years later, her property is still damaged and her family is still displaced, a fate many of her students have faced as well.

Ms. Fitzgerald’s students participate in GBF’s Get Hip to Habitat program, where they cultivate marsh grass and maintain its health until it is ready to be planted in the Bay.

“After the hurricane hit, 60 percent of our students were homeless,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “So whenever we’re planting that cordgrass, my students understand that this time it will hopefully make an impact and slow down wave action, even in just a tropical storm.”marh_grass

The program gives students the opportunity to connect with the land they grew up around and cultivate it to become advocates for the Bay in the future.Cole Edwards, a freshman in Ms. Fitzgerald’s Pre-AP Biology class, helped carry and pour a bucket of saltwater into the wading pools on a hot day in March.

“After Ike, things were pretty bad around here,” Edwards said. “This project is so important because it helps keep the Bay in line and keeps everything from eroding away from the hurricane.”

A lot of the Anahuac High School students live in the Oak Island area where their class plants the grass, so they can watch it grow.

“Last year’s kids came back and showed me a picture and said, ‘Look, this is marsh_grass2by our houses, it actually reached the bank!’” Ms. Fitzgerald said.

A sense of community and togetherness has reached her students this year as they connect with the Bay and cultivate a sense of responsibility and ownership of it during Get Hip to Habitat.“When I do this project, I know that I’m helping the community,” Pre-AP Biology student Kyle Lake said. “And when I do that, it makes me feel like a better person.”

Ms. Fitzgerald’s student Kate Hamkaner sees the program as her generation’s introduction to environmental responsibility and says she has gained a new understanding of what the environment does for us.

“We are the next generation and if we don’t help the environment now, then there won’t be anything left for us to experience,” Hamkaner said. “Helping now preserves it for the future.”

“We are the next generation and if we don’t help the environment now, then there won’t be anything left for us to experience.” — Kate Hamkaner, Anahuac High School Student

In the past four years, three of Ms. Fitzgerald’s students who have gone through the program and shared Kate’s attitude about it were inspired to pursue degrees in marine biology in college.

“Since we’ve started this project, I’ve definiely wondered what we all can do career-wise for the environment,” Hamkaner said.

Last year, GBF’s Get Hip to Habitat program served 1,949 students from 22 schools in Harris, Galveston and Chambers counties. Through grants and support from generous sponsors, we are currently able to offer this meaningful program at no cost to schools.

Ms. Fitzgerald appreciates the program is free as she doesn’t have much of a budget to work with. In fact, she only has 8 microscopes for her 100 students, so being able to participate in a hands-on program like Get Hip to Habitat is incredibly beneficial or the students. To help our program continue to grow and make a difference in the lives of the students and teachers throughout the Houston-Galveston area, donate here today.

This article was originally published in our Spring 2016 Gazette. Since then, our Get Hip to Habitat Program is no longer free, but does offer scholarships. To learn more, visit www.galvbay.org/education