September 21, 2013


Nature’s classroom

Conservation Field Days gives area sixth-graders a taste of the outdoors


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Derek Cass, left, and Trentin Plew, sixth-graders at McGraw, use spices to make a soil profile at the annual Conservation Field Days at Camp Owahta.

Staff Reporter

SOLON — No one seems to know just how long Camp Owahta’s Conservation Field Days has been going on, but everyone seems to agree that getting your hands dirty and out of the classroom all in one stroke can only be a good thing.
The two-day event, taking place on Thursday and Friday, brought in about 500 sixth-graders from local schools who circulated through a dozen stations focused on everything from the declining population of Monarch butterflies to the role of wetlands in an ecosystem.
“We’re just trying to get them outside and exposed to a lot of different topics,” said Dana Burke, a member of the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District who helped organize the event. “Out goal is to foster an appreciation of nature and our natural resources.”
Tim Sandstrom, an environmental science educator who founded the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES New Visions program 19 years ago, has been giving presentations at the Field Days since 1996 and headed up the composting station on Friday.
“We make it fun for the kids,” said Sandstrom. “I think they learn a little better that way.”
Sandstrom’s station was centered on a waist-high pile of compost, and the talk, given by his New Visions students, focused on extolling the positives of composting and recycling.
“We try to tell the kids about recycling just one more thing,” said Sandstrom. “A lot of them haven’t gotten the hint that recycling organic waste is very important, too.”
Meanwhile, down a slick grassy slope, Karen Exelby’s sixth-grade Homer students learned about orienteering, the art of navigation using nothing but a map and compass.
“It is just a fantastic program and the kids love it,” said Exelby. “It’s a nice way to break up the classroom. They can touch it, they can smell it, they can take it all in.
Exelby and her colleague, sixth-grade science teacher Erin Podsiedlik, also said that some of the topics that she and her class encountered on Friday apply to what they are currently learning about in school.
“Currently we’re studying wetland ecosystems,” said Podsiedlik, whose class participated in The Wonder of Wetlands station. “We’ve visited several local wetlands and it all kind of ties in.”
The day’s activities were also a hit with the kids.
Eleven-year-old Jack Fox, a self proclaimed “outdoorsmen, through and through,” said that he was excited to spend the day at Camp Owahta and is hoping to pursue a career in the Department of Environmental Conservation. He added that the outdoor stations were a good experience.
Fox’s classmate, 11-year-old Zach Apker, agreed.
“It’s nice to get out of the classroom,” said Apker. “We’re just going with the flow. I’ve enjoyed it so far.”


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