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South Florida club teaches kids about the environment

Daelyn Einhorn holds an impressive résumé for an 11-year-old. The Ransom Everglades sixth grader is the junior spokesperson for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, and founder and president of the Junior Naturalist EarthKeepers Club, which teaches students about the local ecosystem and how to better care for the environment.

Daelyn’s mother Brett Graff, 43, said her daughter has always shown an interest in the environment, but she’s not sure where she developed her eco-friendly habits.

“She would always scold us for leaving the water running while we brushed our teeth or for leaving the refrigerator open for too long,” said Graff.

Daelyn said it started from fear.

“I thought, ‘Who’s going to take care of the environment?’ I decided I wanted to save the planet, and then I realized I wanted to inspire everyone to do something good for the environment too,” Daelyn said.

The nature center recognized Daelyn’s efforts — and those of Graff, who said she would schlep her daughter and six friends around to different eco-activities before the center created a formal club for Daelyn and other Miami-Dade County students.

The Junior Naturalist EarthKeepers Club started last September and is now in its second season, holding what the club calls “adventures” at the nature center. Graff said “science” doesn’t elicit the same response in the children.

Nevertheless, over 20 students from schools across the county, including Gulliver Academy, Key Biscayne K-8 Center, Miami Country Day and Bay Point Elementary, attended the club’s first meeting of the season on Oct. 26 to partake in some very scientific activities.

The day’s itinerary included water-quality testing, a beach cleanup and a sandcastle-building contest.

The students gathered around the nature center’s touch tank to start off their Saturday morning adventure — allowing them to touch, hold and learn about sea stars, urchins and biscuits.

John Rella, 23, a naturalist guide at the center who supervises the club, remembered catching the checkered puffer fish with no tail that resides in the saltwater mangrove tank.

“As soon as we saw the touch tank, we already loved it,” said Frank Houston, 44, whose 9-year-old son Jack is a new member.

This season, the club is seeking members to become liaisons between the club and Miami-Dade County schools, and Houston thinks his Miami Shores Elementary student should be an ambassador in his school.

“He’s very interested in marine sciences and it seems like a great interactive way to learn and have fun,” Houston said. “They don’t get these kinds of experiences in school. With the FCAT, there’s not that many field trips and it curtails education. I think it’s a disgrace. But this seems like a great interactive way to learn.”

The club has members from schools in Key Biscayne, Miami Shores, Miami Beach, North Miami, Pinecrest and Kendall.

In the club’s first year, it hosted five adventures including shark and squid dissections and a beach clean up where the trash was used by a local artist to create an 8-foot-long, 4-foot-wide whale sculpture that resides in the center.

This season, the club will host a planting day, a seagrass adventure and a film festival.

With sunscreen-lathered noses, members took to the beach on Oct. 26 to conduct water quality testing using pH strips and dissolvable oxygen tablets. Students shook the tablets in vials of seawater until they dissolved into shades of pink, using a color wheel to determine the acidity of the water.

Daelyn brainstorms the ideas for the adventures and manages an email list of over 200 members, teachers and club supporters. Although this seems like a heavy workload for a sixth grader, Daelyn said the hardest part of her job was her interview with the nature center last year.

“I was really nervous because I really wanted this club to happen,” Daelyn said. “Now everything comes naturally. I come up with ideas for the events based on what I think needs help like cleaning the beach or planting a garden for the women’s shelter.”

In December, the club will learn how to start a vegetable garden by preparing potted plants for local Lotus House Women’s Center.

“We support her and help to implement her ideas and make them possible,” said Theodora Long, executive director of the nature center, which is a partner with Miami-Dade public schools.

The club has a $1 membership fee and each adventure is $20 per student. Graff said the club has a small endowment for children whose families cannot afford the costs.

The adventures cap depending on available supervision, but usually accommodate 15 to 25 students. Children of all ages can join, but a guardian must accompany those under 8.

Daelyn is not sure what she wants to do when she grows up, but she said she will always be eco-friendly and wants to encourage her friends to be environmentally conscious too.

“I want people to understand and care about the environment just as much as I do,” she said. “I might not be able to make them care, but I can try. I explain to everyone that it’s not just about your lollipop wrapper, it’s about everyone’s lollipop wrappers littering the beach.”