The goals of NPAT’s education program align closely with its mission:
“We educate Texans about native prairies, plant communities, grassland birds, wildlife and sustainable land-use practices. We support the important role of grassland habitats in climate stabilization and in water-quality resources and conservation. We promote awareness of the natural and cultural heritage of prairies in Texas. NPAT provides opportunities to learn more about our prairies through workshops, presentations, field trips and volunteer opportunities.”
Education and awareness are key to the conservation of our Texas Native Prairie heritage. The education outreach plan is to develop and facilitate student and adult programs for the Houston region in the areas of history of our coastal prairie, the amazing story of the purchase of Lawther Deer Park Prairie, benefits of a prairie, prairie ecology and the importance of preserving our native wildlife and native pollinators.
Student programs include providing interactive programs for K-12 classrooms with a focus on Deer Park and La Porte School Districts, neighborhood community centers, summer camps, Girl and Boy Scouts, and local colleges and universities. Our hope is to get students out to Deer Park prairie, as there is no substitute for experiential learning. Deer Park Prairie is listed as an Every Kid in a Park destination site, so free bus rides are given to 4th graders enrolled in a Title 1 School. But we are also creating prairie education trunks to teach the prairie in the classrooms or loan to teachers.
Adult programs include facilitating all-day teacher workshops, both on site and at their school campus. We also facilitate NPAT member and Texas Master Naturalist workshops on site. Shorter prairie programs are also facilitated to communities such as the Deer Park Chamber of Commerce and local senior living communities. Building a pocket prairie at the participants’ location is encouraged in all programs. Education also includes exhibiting at events, networking and collaborating with the many prairie partners.
The benefits of a prairie are wide ranging. Native grasslands are more economical, using less fertilizers and water. Native prairies have high plant diversity: one acre can have over 300 species, preserving our native pollinators. Native prairies provide seeds and are models for future restorations. The deep soils and roots of coastal prairies provide many different ecosystem services. Prairie roots, which can grow 9 to 15 feet deep, act like a sponge and absorb 14 times more water than typical lawns in a heavy rain event. Prairies are a source of flood mitigation and can store between 25,000-250,000 gallons of rainwater per acre. Prairies are also a source of carbon sequestration and have been shown to store up to 50 tons of carbon per acre. Prairies improve water quality as the roots filter the water. The aesthetic and health improvement qualities of a prairie are also valuable. Doctors are writing prescriptions to patients to visit nature as part of their healing process, such as the 14-acre pocket prairie at MD Anderson.