The Settles Nature and Science Center has opened at Pettigrew Academy, where a nature exchange program also has been established.

The center was dedicated by Martha Settles Westbrook in memory of her parents, Martha and Ralph Settles.

“My parents always gave to the youth and my sister and I were always taught to give to the youth community,” Westbrook said.

“We are extremely thankful to Ms. Westbrook for providing the Settles Nature and Science Center and ongoing children’s activities for the school and community,” said Pettigrew director Kim Bauman, who invited Westbrook to come to the school to show the students how to quilt about two years ago. Westbrook said she accepted the invitation, came to the school “and I’ve been here ever since.” Westbrook has continued to come to the school to teach weekly quilting classes and to participate in its other activities.

“She (Bauman) later told me that she was interested in the Dallas Zoo nature exchange program and needed a nature building,” said Westbrook, who said she was happy to help, financially and otherwise.

A long-time resident of Waxahachie, Westbrook recently moved to Dallas after the death of her husband so she could be closer to her daughter, son-in-law and four grandchildren.

“But I still make it back to Waxahachie two or three times per week,” said Westbrook, who returns regularly to visit friends.

“The center will provide a resource for research for the school and the community that will enhance across the curriculum and provide an opportunity for children to see the value in observing nature,” Bauman said. “The center houses an exciting variety of common and unusual items found in nature. These include, for example, seashells, fossils, rocks and minerals, seed pods, nuts and even a ram’s skull - and they’re all labeled.”

“It is fun, educational and increases an awareness of their natural surroundings,” Bauman said.

Dallas Zoo personnel were on hand at the recent opening to provide assistance with the nature exchange program.

The zoo’s program is open to young children to early teens who participate by bringing in items they find in nature, such as shells, rocks, pinecones and seeds, to trade. The more each participant knows about the item, the more points he or she earns to take something else home from the exchange program.

“It’s great that we can get connected with the community to help children learn about nature and the world around us,” said David Muir, educational coordinator of Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo at the Dallas Zoo.

“We love how it gets kids outside and connected to their everyday environment. If they’re going to conserve, they have to first appreciate,” said Lisa Dolliver, lead naturalist for zoo’s nature exchange program.

The program encourages social interaction and quality family time, she said, saying, “The nature exchange really gets the kids’ eyes trained. They become better observers.”

The items collected by children create opportunities for conversation with their friends, parents, grandparents and others, Dolliver said, noting the importance of having adults who share in the enthusiasm.

The center will be open to the community from 9 a.m.-noon the second Saturday of every other month beginning with the month of November. During this time, a program will be offered featuring a particular subject or theme and those participating in the nature exchange program can accumulate points and trade items collected and brought in.

The Jan. 12 program will be about snowflakes and ice, March’s program will focus on butterflies and flight and May’s program will be about flowers. The program is open to the community and free of charge and will include related crafts, stories, games, learning activities, exhibits and food.

The center will hold temporary and permanent exhibits as well as resource books that are “all available to the community,” Bauman said.

“My favorite thing about the nature exchange was trading an enormous rock for two sea shells, a geode and an abalone,” said Waxahachie resident Kaitlyn Boles, 10, who was present at the program kick-off event.

For more information, call Pettigrew Academy at 972-923-1633.

E-mail Jennifer at jennifer.howell@waxahachiedailylight.com