Bay Area Lyme at 2017 Association of Environmental and Outdoor Educators Annual Conference in La Honda, CA

Spreading awareness about Lyme and tick-borne infections among high-risk groups has been a key objective for our growing education outreach program at Bay Area Lyme Foundation and the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Educators (AEOE) has been part of our overall education outreach strategy. For the last three years, Bay Area Lyme has attended AEOE’s annual spring conference, raising awareness about Lyme and teaching professional naturalists, outdoor educators, and science teachers how to protect both themselves and the children they serve against Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

Every Monday morning, educational professionals working full-time at residential outdoor science schools in California typically welcome groups of up to 200 fifth and sixth grade school children and their classroom or science teachers for a week of “school outside in nature.” These outdoor education programs are often the keystone of the year’s elementary science curriculum and almost a rite of passage for California school children ever since the 1970s when “outdoor ed” was first adopted. Unfortunately, that also puts outdoor educators at high risk for contracting Lyme as they are out in nature 100% of the year and, as we now know, tick season is year-round in California.

Image courtesy of the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (AEOE)
Know the Ticks prevention card and key on a naturalist’s pack
Entrance to Camp Jones Gulch, location of the 2017 AEOE Conference

If we can teach outdoor educators who are already deeply knowledgeable about the flora, fauna, and natural history of our state, about ticks and Lyme, they – in turn – will then know how to talk about ticks with the hundreds of children they serve annually in a practical, non-scary way. The naturalists, in the field with the students all week, can remind kids to watch and check for ticks after walking on trails and playing in grasses, helping the students make the connection and develop the important prevention habits while they are out in nature.

Plus, the numbers are compelling: the roughly 130 residential outdoor science schools in California alone serve approximately 500,000 California school children each year – and in partnership, Bay Area Lyme can now also reach out to that population to help keep kids safe.

But it’s not enough just to talk about being alert to ticks as the buses unload excited children at each outdoor school every Monday morning. Bay Area Lyme realized quickly that we needed engaging, permanent, high-quality reminders on-site in all these locations so children themselves would be “tick aware” at the right times of day – e.g., during daily showers. Hence, the launch of our “tick-check signs” program. These tick-check signs are permanent, water- and graffiti-proof, and can be mounted in showers and bunk rooms to remind kids when and where on their bodies they should check themselves for ticks. DAILY. And – if they find a tick – to tell an adult immediately.

The new waterproof tick-check signs.

The exciting news is that all attendees at this year’s conference at Jones Gulch (March 23-26 in La Honda) loved our tick-check signs and we gathered stacks of orders from naturalists and outdoor school administrators. We can make this important and potentially life-saving signage FREE to outdoor schools because of incredibly generous donations to Bay Area Lyme Foundation. [If you would like to request a sign for your program, please contact our team.]

In addition to taking orders for signage, Bay Area Lyme hosted a booth at the conference to share information and materials about all of our amazing programs and materials. Some of the highlights include the national Free Tick Testing program, encouraging naturalists to treat their clothing by sending garments to InsectShield, giving out dozens of our perennially popular tick removal keys, and providing free tick plushies from Giant Microbes, which help explain how ticks function using a non-scary soft toy – another huge hit of the weekend!

Bay Area Lyme program and information table at the Conference

We also heard from many attendees about how they personally had already benefitted from our awareness efforts. One naturalist described how a colleague figured out that she had Lyme after attending an in-service session and testing positive for the Borrelia burgdoferi bacteria after months of troublesome and undiagnosed symptoms. Others described having sent in ticks to the free testing program and being relieved to learn  that the ticks they pulled off their bodies were clean.

BAL Outreach Director Jo Ellis with auctioneers “Sasquatch” and “Yeti” at the AEOE live auction

Of course, when you get a group of 300+ outdoor educators together who spend their professional lives living in cabins in outdoor places and entertaining children every evening with no internet, TV,  or video games, having fun is very high on the list of “musts.” Each year, a raucous and talent-filled live auction is held to raise money for scholarships to attend AEOE. Auction items are typically outdoor gear like water bottles, hoodies, folding chairs, and blankets donated to the conference from retailers like REI, The North Face, Patagonia, etc. But there are also priceless items like “a selfie with this year’s auctioneer twins – naturalists Sasquatch and Yeti.” I was lucky enough to place the winning bid for this item at $50! And here’s the proof!

We are excited to continue developing and growing our awareness-raising with this important community in the coming years!

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For more information about how your school or program can benefit from Bay Area Lyme’s Outreach programs, please click here.

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