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Learning in an outdoor classroom

Ray Gora / LTN
Forestry Agent Chase Payne shows sixth-graders from Lincolnton Middle School a torch that the Forest Service uses for conducting controlled burns at the LSWCD Conservation Field Day held Wednesday at Betty G. Ross Park.

Sixth-graders get crash course on conservation issues

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

Lincoln County sixth-graders received bite-sized lessons on water, wildlife and other environmental topics during Conservation Field Day earlier this week at Betty Ross Park in Lincolnton.
The Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District and other local agriculture and conservation agencies came together to teach local students about their environment, through information booths manned by officials who specialize in various eco-friendly subjects. Wednesday and Thursday, four local middle schools were split into morning and afternoon sections to make the process run more smoothly.
The goal is to educate students on the importance of our natural resources and how to protect those elements in an outdoor atmosphere, Lincoln County District Program Coordinator Patty Dellinger told the Times-News on Tuesday, teaching them also about the local role farmers play in the food they eat; to make them aware of where their food is really coming from.
Hands-on activities and interactive elements of the event bring something to the table that reading from a book can’t, Dellinger said, which she hopes will interest and hold the students’ attention so they are able to absorb more information.
The conservation day, dating back to 1980, started off as a program for one school. After the buzz of the event spread around the area, it eventually led to a county-wide event for all sixth-graders nearby, which was fine with local conservationists.
“If we teach the students at an early age, this will instill the need for conservation of our natural resources for use of future generations,” Dellinger said. “It will help the students understand that these resources are not unlimited and our actions do have an impact – good or bad.”
This week, local officials were disbursed throughout the park, tackling the various subjects through trivia, demonstrative games and talks that had West Lincoln Middle School students moving around while learning on Thursday.
Pamela Stroupe, of the Gaston County Soil & Water Conservation District, used old water jugs, 20-oz. soda bottles and other plastic props as she explained the importance of water in day-to-day life. She held up sheets of paper with statistics that shocked her group; we all use about 125 gallons of water a day for basic needs, such as showering and watering our plants, she said. At that rate, the water on Earth would only last about 35 years — a number that had the students whispering.
“But you know what’s exciting,” Stroupe asked the children. “Water recycles itself.”
Before the children had a second to think that over, she had them up on their feet, touching their toes and stretching their arms as they repeated the stages of the water cycle.
Across the lot stood Forest Ranger of Lincoln County Chase Payne, who was also giving his group some ideas to think about. His question of, “Who likes to eat tree bark?” caught the children off-guard as they stared at each other, puzzled, and unsure how to answer.
Laughing, he proceeded to explain that foods containing cinnamon have ingredients made from dried tree bark in them. Payne showed the children various tools he uses on a daily basis as a ranger, including a backpack — “his lifeline” — that is equipped with enough supplies to last him 48 hours in an emergency, he explained. This idea surprised two 11-year-old girls who eagerly listened to his just in case-tips on how to survive in tricky situations.
Sydney Burgin and Samantha Sain were impressed with Payne’s knowledge, they agreed, and enjoyed the chance to be outside for a few hours that day.
“It’s better than being inside and playing video games all day,” Burgin said.
The duo was on their way to Director of the County Soil and Water Conservation District Rick McSwain’s stop, as he wrapped up his 15-minute lesson with the previous crowd of children. Students read off a chart where they graphed the results of a game they played, showing the importance of food, water and shelter to deer (amongst other animals.) McSwain also started discussions about current events in the news to further explain the relevance of the game, such as the black-tongue disease that has killed deer across the country.
Overall, Dellinger estimated about 1,000 sixth graders attended the two-day event this week.

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