September 18, 2010


Sixth-graders step outside

Conservation Field Days in Solon teaches 500 students about nature

ConserveJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Melissa Yearick of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition explains the importance of wetlands to area sixth-graders Friday during Conservation Field Days at Camp Owahta.

Staff Reporter

SOLON — Twenty-four children sat quietly on picnic tables at a Camp Owahta building Friday and studied a mound of organic waste, as a series of high school seniors explained why leftover food can be used as fertilizer.
The lesson at the annual Conservation Field Days was about different facets of composting and why their families should be following the practice. The teachers for this station were seniors in an Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES New Vision class.
Behind the mound, which was 3 feet high, Justin Feller of Cortland Junior-Senior High School explained different kinds of composting containers that stood in a row.
He twisted and lifted off the top of one called an earth machine, and out popped a girl, Jolene Cox of DeRuyter High School.
The children, all sixth-graders at Smith Elementary School in Cortland, were startled and then laughed.
Keeping the audience’s attention was half the battle for people manning the 12 stations around the summer camp, where sixth-graders learned about different natural resources and why they need to be preserved.
The two-day event at the 4-H camp brought about 500 sixth-graders from all Cortland County schools, except Cincinnatus Central School and Marathon Christian Academy, to the camp’s buildings and grounds. It was sponsored by Cortland County Soil and Water District and Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The goal is to get the sixth-graders out of the classroom and into the outdoors as they learn about forests, wetlands, animals and ways that people can live off the land without destroying it.
“I’m glad the Soil and Water District does this, people don’t have much connection to nature anymore,” said Shawn Forney, who led a teaching station about orienteering, the art of finding one’s way with maps and a compass. He said many people he knows who compete in orienteering “are techie people who would never get in the woods if not for orienteering.”
“Kids take in more than you realize,” said Becky Hammer-Lester, the AmeriCorps volunteer who works as the Soil and Water District’s intern, adding it was nice to get children outdoors where they can learn about things hands-on.
Forney, a volunteer from the Central New York Orienteering Club, led the students through the forest with compasses at his station, explaining how people could use a stream’s flow direction and the way trees grew to help understand where they are.
Followed by teacher Eileen Fitzgerald-Spiehs’ class from Virgil Elementary School, Forney walked a short trail and pointed out myrtle grass that the region’s settlers planted around their cabins, then said the ruins of a pioneer cabin were probably in the nearby woods.
He told the students that Sunday is National Orienteering Day. Lime Hollow Center for Culture and the Environment will have an orienteering event from noon until 2 p.m.
Under a tent nearby, Claudia Hitt — horticulture program educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension — talked about apples and why they matter as a food source.
Hitt said Europeans brought apples to the U.S. and relied on the fruit as part of their diet because it provided fiber and complex carbohydrates, “more energy than an energy bar.”
“The U.S. is the No. 2 apple grower in the world,” she told teacher Kelly Michaels’ class from Parker Elementary School in Cortland.
“Who is No. 1?” a boy asked. She said Russia was.
Hitt said New York is the nation’s second highest apple producer behind Washington state.
Before moving on, the students divided into two teams and competed in a relay run on the camp’s basketball court.
Dane George, one of Michaels’ students, said he especially liked the station about forestry, taught by Matt Swayze of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“I really liked that, he was talking to us about which kind of trees like to grow in shade and which ones in the sun, and when some trees need to be cut down,” George said. “I like forests. My grandmother lives near woods up in Lakeland.”

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