With loud, trumpeting calls, the pair of sandhill cranes sounded as excited to see the visitors to the city of Gainesville’s Sweetwater Wetlands Park as were the 19 public school students and their parents – several of whom had never been to the wetlands.
The habitat is home to 258 species of birds, explained Park Ranger Darby Gyun to the group, as she detailed how the park’s treatment system removes debris and excess nutrients from the 10 million gallons of water flowing through the wetlands each day into Paynes Prairie and then into the Floridan Aquifer.
The memorable stop was one of several on Oct. 19 during Celebrate City Government Day, an annual field trip each October during Florida City Government Week for local fifth grade students selected as Alachua County Citizens of the Month. In its 16th year, the partnership between the City of Gainesville and Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) is designed to educate students about municipal government, services, facilities and programs. This year’s students represented 17 public elementary schools throughout the county.
“This long-standing collaboration between ACPS and the city of Gainesville is one of the highlights of my year,” said ACPS Curriculum Specialist Jon Rehm. “The field trip gives students a hands-on peek into the importance of local government in their lives and demonstrates the many ways they can take part in their city when they grow up,” he said.
The day began with a visit to City Hall to meet Mayor Lauren Poe and Interim City Manager Cynthia W. Curry. The students learned about the city charter, how commissioners are elected and about changes to the city’s district boundaries approved by the Gainesville City Commission earlier this year.
“Municipal government has the most direct daily impact on the lives of residents,” Poe said. “Partnership programs like this one are a fun, interactive way for students to see that.”
A tour of Gainesville Fire Rescue Fire Station 1 with Gainesville Fire Rescue Chief Joseph Dixon was a highlight of the day, where students witnessed GFR firefighter Dallas Christoffers don the 50 pounds of safety equipment worn from head to toe.
“Firefighters have 60 seconds to get dressed once a call comes in,” said Interim Fire and Life Safety Educator Kristian Harding as she explained how each piece of gear protects a firefighter from danger. “If you speak with your hands cupped over your mouth, you’ll know what a firefighter sounds like when he comes to the rescue.”
Student Taylor Golden was impressed.
“I never met a woman or even read about one who inspired me as much as Kristian,” she said.
During a stop at the headquarters of the City’s Regional Transit System, students spotted buses on their routes from a wall of monitors displaying dozens of traffic camera feeds. They also visited the fleet maintenance facility where city staff services and repairs vehicles ranging from lawnmowers and golf carts to utility trucks, fire engines and police cars.
“What a fantastic field trip,” student Stella Hall said. “It was a good mix of locations and the tours were great!”