Officials in early June launched a summer pilot program for 30 students who are part of the Fort Worth school district's after-school program. They plan to take several trips to the center to learn about native animals and plants.
"We didn't have computers when I was a kid so we were always outside. There were no video games to play in those days," Jones, 73, told the students. "I think you're going to get a lot out of this."
The program is being called Ollie's Greening Up in honor of Texas Rangers pitcher Darren Oliver, who lives in Southlake and is helping to fund the initiative.
Oliver said he wants the students to learn "how fun it is outside and to see nature."
"I think it's every parent's dream for the kids to get outside playing, because you don't ever see it anymore," Oliver said.
The students, from Rosemont and Daggett middle schools and Eastern Hills High School, will learn about birds and monarch butterflies and how their habitat is endangered. The students will create art journals and photos to document their observations and later receive a camera and memory book bought by Oliver. An outing to a Texas Rangers game is also planned.
"I am looking forward to interacting with nature and seeing some animals that I never thought I would see unless I went to the zoo," said Donte Griffin, 16, an Eastern Hills junior.
A similar effort to acquaint Fort Worth students with nature is under way at the Tandy Hills Natural Area, a 160-acre prairie in east Fort Worth. Last month, about 140 fourth-graders from Meadowbrook Elementary School took a field trip there, courtesy of the Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area.
They worked with master naturalists to hunt for fossils, take soil samples and sketch plants.
"We asked them to come up with a haiku based on their experiences," said Don Young, the group's founder and director. "It was kind of like an outdoor classroom."