Environmental field trip

Students learn about local ecology, heritage
Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:51 PM

Instead of attending another normal school day, Seymour Intermediate School students in Vicky Rooney's and Heather Daniel's fourth-grade classes got to spend Tuesday learning about the environment and the cultural heritage of the mountains during a trip to the Eugene W. Huskey Environmental Center.

"We basically just teach the kids as much as we can about our area, the flora and fauna history of the area, as well as the cultural history," said Robert Younger, director of the environmental center. "It's a wide variety of activities where they learn about plants and animals, and we also spend a lot of time talking about the cultural history during the hikes.

"It's a pretty full schedule here. We keep them hopping."

Along with hiking, the program incorporates activities like archery, horseshoes, campfire programs, music and crafts. Representatives from other organizations, including the National Park Service, the American Eagle Foundation and Keep Sevier Beautiful, give lessons on various environmental topics.

"The first thing they do here in the morning is a lesson with Keep Sevier Beautiful, about water pollution and storm water," Younger said.

After the morning lesson, the classes split up. One group went on a hike and the other stayed for lunch and an animal lesson, then the two groups switched.

Younger said the programs are geared to the students' grade level, and they try to build on what students are learning in school.

"Especially with the science part of it, we try to gear it toward their grade-level curriculum and enhance what they're learning, but we're also a hands-on, we're out there smelling and picking and touching things," Younger said.

Younger said students tend to enjoy the hands-on activities the most, and one of the most popular activities is stream ecology, where the students actually get in a stream and try to collect flora and fauna samples to examine in the center's lab. Stream ecology, however, is usually reserved for warmer months.

"Some stuff we do depends on the season," Younger said. "We'll do the stream ecology activity when it's chilly, but not in the really cold months."

All fourth-grade classes in the Sevier County School System participate in this environmental program, and the center offers an extended program to every sixth-grade class.

Fourth-grade classes usually go to the center in the winter, but the two-day, overnight sixth-grade trips are spread out throughout the school year.

rhargett@themountainpress.com