Deborah Buehler
Education Specialist, The Indianapolis Zoo
Indianapolis, Indiana

Deborah Buehler, an award winner in the Education and Outreach category, works as an Education Specialist for school programs at the Indianapolis Zoo. The state’s largest Zoological Park had a 1993 attendance of nearly 900,000 visitors, 116,000 of which were school children. Buehler’s responsibilities include management of teacher in-service programs and student designed workshops — a total of 348 education programs in 1993. Over the last several years, wetlands have become an important theme in the education activities at the zoo, due in large part to Buehler’s enthusiasm.

Buehler has had great success as co-director of the Integrated Environmental Curriculum (IEC) Project. In 1992, she began a joint project with the Indiana Sierra Club Wetlands Project and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop a scientifically accurate and academically rigorous environmental curriculum, known as the IEC, for elementary and middle school students. Phase I of the IEC emphasizes the biological richness and diversity inherent in wetlands as a theme to instruct children in science, math, social studies, art, music, and physical education.

This project has been designed to capture the diversity of students, as well as the diversity of wetlands. As co-director of the project, Buehler involved teachers from the Ft. Wayne Community School Corporation as authors of the written curriculum materials. These teachers represented diverse educational experiences, from inner-city to rural schools. Recognizing the diversity of learning styles, the IEC provides wetland-based experiences ranging from the scientific analysis of wetland seed banks, to wetlands as a subject for painting and sculpture. Buehler has incorporated her experience as an educator to initiate the development of interactive computer software, wetland fact cards, and videos as part of the IEC materials.

Buehler’s belief that curriculum development is only the beginning of an educational effort, has made this program successful. In order to reach teachers not currently using environmental curriculum, Buehler has applied her training experience to developing a workshop for teachers using the curriculum. The workshops, which involve both field work and classroom instruction, serve to familiarize teachers with the basic techniques for environmental education.

Buehler has also worked with the administration of the zoo to develop a strong institutional commitment to wetlands. In 1989, the zoo received an Indiana Department of Natural Resources small grant which enabled the development of an exhibit entitled “Indiana’s Vanishing Wetlands.” Buehler managed the development, design, and content of the exhibition. Buehler has also developed a special flyer entitled “Indiana Wetlands,” for the zoo’s Conservation Alert program. The program features endangered plants, animals, or habitats—informing zoo visitors through a brief article, suggested reading lists, and guest speaker lectures. This same article was a feature in the “Edzoocator” the zoo’s teacher mailer sent to 15,000 Indiana teachers that year.

Buehler also coordinates the zoo’s annual Science for Conservation program, which has focused on a variety of wetlands issues. With the help of biologists from the FWS, the program has exposed thousands of students and hundreds of teachers to wetlands in Indiana. Buehler also worked closely with the FWS to develop classroom materials focused on wetlands.

Finally, Buehler continues to incorporate the zoo’s new “Toads, Frogs, and Polliwogs” permanent exhibit into her wetlands education efforts. The exhibit provides zoo visitors with a global perspective on amphibians and related issues. Buehler uses this unusual perspective on wetland issues to expand the public’s understanding of these ecosystems. In addition, Buehler currently works on new ways to educate the people of Indiana and the Midwest on matters concerning wildlife and their habitats.

— Forest Clark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service