Kids have a field day learning about the environment

Nearly 85 students from Council, Cambridge and New Meadows elementary schools left the classroom and entered the woods for a day of hands-on learning at the annual Forestry Expo in October.

Lafferty Campground near Council was transformed into learning stations where third- through sixth-graders explored wildlife and plant identification, forestry and range management, wildland fire, riparian and upland vegetation, aquatic habitat and watersheds. The kids were guided by local professionals, student helpers and other volunteers.

This is the fourth year of the field day, which grows every year. What began as an educational outing for Council kids has grown to include kids from Cambridge and Meadows Valley.

CouncilThe event is modeled after the Ag Expo hosted by Future Farmers of America chapters, designed to demonstrate the importance of Idaho’s agriculture industry.

“We adapted our field day to teach our kids about the many uses and resources their local forests provide, including jobs, wood products, wildlife habitat and clean water,” said Dawn Holmes, Council teacher and FFA advisor.

The theme of the Forestry Expo has expanded to include range management as well as forestry with support from the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission.

“It’s fun to see kids start learning about where they live and thinking about what’s around them,” said Gretchen Hyde, executive director of IRRC.

Meadows Valley teacher Courtney Fisher said her kids were “super excited” about it. She planned to follow up with this classroom writing assignment: Answer, what are you curious about now?

Council fourth grade teacher Janice Paradis said most of her students were looking forward to their second field day.

“One of their favorite stations was the watershed trailer, where they got to play in the sand and see how erosion works,” Paradis said.

The watershed trailer is a mobile learning station provided by the Boise National Forest. It uses synthetic sand and trees, plus a water source, so children can experiment with arranging stream courses and plant material to see how physical characteristics and vegetation affect erosion.

At the riparian vegetation station, students learn the definition of native plants and collect seeds for the Council High School greenhouse, where the plants will be grown for habitat restoration on the Payette National Forest and other local sites.

The teachers involved concurred that the hands-on learning experience was invaluable, and their students enjoyed getting together with kids from other schools.

Council FFA students assisted at each learning station as part of their supervised agriculture experience projects. Teaching the younger kids gives the high school students a chance to develop a wide variety of career skills, Holmes said.

One of those high school helpers, sophomore Courtney Stanford of Council, volunteered to coordinate this year’s expo.

“This experience taught me a lot about the leadership needed to organize a large group,” said Stanford. “I saw how important time management and communication are in working with all the organizers.”

“Courtney was awesome,” Holmes said. “She took the ball and ran with it, and she’s already making plans for next year’s event.”

Melanie Vining, hydrologist with the Council Ranger District of the Payette National Forest, has helped organize the event since its inception. Vining’s two boys attend Council Elementary.

“I know my own kids have loved this day,” Vining said. “Big brother kept telling little brother how awesome it was, and this year the older boy was jealous when little bro’ got to come and he was too old!”

In addition to IRRC, partners in the Forestry and Range Expo include Payette National Forest, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary, McCall Chapter of Idaho Master Naturalists, Payette Children’s Forest and Adams Soil and Water Conservation District. Parents, teachers and teacher aides from all three school districts helped facilitate the field day.