September 16, 2011


Field Days teach conservation to sixth-graders

Camp Owahta hosts over 500 students who learn about wildlife, composting and clean energy

TeachBob Ellis/staff photographer
Randall Elementary School sixth-grader Daniel Parks leads his classmates down a trail at Camp Owahta during the orienteering segment of the annual Conservation Field Days.

Staff Reporter

SOLON — Local sixth-graders got their fill of nature this week at the annual Conservation Field Days at Camp Owahta.
Over 500 schoolchildren from area school districts went to the field days on Thursday and Friday. Over a few hours they learned about composting, gun safety, wildlife management and clean forms of energy along with other conservation activities.
The field days were sponsored by the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County.
The key point of the field days was to give the students a quick and fun education, said Michael Catalano, an intern with Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District who was responsible for organizing the field days.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure they have fun while learning to appreciate natural resources and develop a passion for the outdoors,” he said.
Members of the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department, the Cornell Cooperative Extension and 16 high school seniors from the New Visions program at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES were on hand to teach students about various conservation topics.
The seniors were part of the New Visions environmental education class taught by Tim Sandstrom at the Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Sciences. Students must apply to attend the class and many who take it go on to careers in environmental conservation.
Volunteering at the field days is a good way for them to practice passing on what they’ve learned to others, Sandstrom said.
“The key to something like this with younger students it to get down on students’ level so they can understand the concepts,” Sandstrom said.
One of the stations taught by Standstrom’s students was a composting lesson. The sixth-graders from Gail Renninger-Smith’s class from Smith Elementary School in Cortland were taught how to develop a compost bin and a worm bin of their own.
When the worm bin was passed around, a mix of squeals of disgust and whispers of “cool, worms” swept through the young audience.
“The great part about this is that they can go back home and do it in their backyard,” said Renninger-Smith.
One of the student instructors, Jimmy VanDeuson, 16, a senior at Cortland High School, learned that very same lesson just six years ago when he went to the field days as a sixth-grader. Now he plans to study environmental conservation in college.
“This class helped me decide what I want to do for a living,” he said.
The clean energy program was taught by Claudia Hitt, a horticulture and environmental educator at the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Her demonstration focused on teaching students the importance of going green and reducing their carbon footprint.
“We try to show them ways they can do that every day,” Hitt said.
That included simple tasks, like turning off the lights when no one is in a room and not leaving the refrigerator door open.
“I have two teenage boys and they’ll leave the door open for 10 minutes while they’re looking for a snack,” Hitt said.
At the firearms awareness station, Cortland County Sheriff’s Sgt. Charles Stevens asked how many children knew there was a gun in their house or in the house of a family member. Nearly all of the children raised their hands.
“That’s pretty typical of what I see when I ask that question,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s so important to teach them to not pick up guns they see lying around.”


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