Trust counselor gives students opportunity to explore Florida’s backyard

At Hialeah Gardens High School, a high school trust counselor inspires adolescents to do more for the environment through the Florida parks program. 

In addition to his day job, Tom Binder is also a sponsor of National Park Ambassadors club at the school — a program which gives students the opportunity to explore Florida’s backyard such as the Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas, and Elliott Key in Biscayne National Park.

Binder’s interest in the environment and counseling adolescents began at the Dade Marine Institute. At his first job he taught juveniles in detention to realign their mentality. Rather than “getting high” by stealing cars, Binder showed the students can “get that same rush doing positive things that won’t get [them] locked up.”

After getting his job within the Miami-Dade County Public School system, Binder noticed resources like kayaking not being used, which he said was a good way to build a nature-based program.

“I don’t know about you, but I can’t really remember what I learned about in the classroom,” he said. “But if you ask me about camping trips, I can tell you everything minute by minute.”

Yvette Cano, education specialist at Everglades National Park, worked closely with Binder in organizing the yearly trips.

A program originally designed for fifth and sixth grade students, Cano extended the program specifically for him due to his “eagerness to bring the students.”

“Students are a bit apprehensive when they first come out to the Everglades,” Cano said. “But every year I see these kids persevere and truly embrace the opportunity.”

Kinting Mui, now studying at the University of Florida, graduated from Hialeah Gardens High School in 2017 as a member of Binder’s program. She spoke highly of the program and her experience during the trips, saying that the exclusion of electronic devices during her expeditions was a relief in disguise.

“It sounded awful at first, but once [I] was at the campsite and surrounded by kids [my] age, it really paved the way to allow us to get to know one another on a deeper, more genuine level,” she said.