Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Youth Education

By Jennifer Thum

This year was an exciting one, like most.  That being said, it seemed that youth education was one of the top priorities for the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) in Northeast Indiana.  I was fortunate enough to assist several districts in their youth education events, and I wanted to highlight the events in Adams, Wabash and Steuben Counties.  Each county has similar programs, but each with its own individual flair.  They all have the same objective, which is to teach our youth about the wonderful world of conservation. 

The first event that I was able to assist with was in Adams County.  I was asked to teach 6th graders on the importance of water conservation though an activity called “common water” as outlined in the Project Wet manual.  The day was warm, so the kids did not mind getting wet at all.  The event featured rotating stations displaying GPS systems, beef calves, soils, pollinators and worms.  This education event was done at the two middle schools in Adams County over the course of two days. There were several volunteers on hand to help with the event including, Purdue Extension, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Indiana State Department of Agriculture, the SWCD’s board of supervisors, and even a local forester.  It was a lot of fun and a very rewarding day.  In total, we reached over 400 kids.

Bellmont J.H. - Listening to Sill Sarfi

The second event was in Steuben County, at Pokagon State Park in Angola.  All of the 4th graders from their county attended this event, which meant that I would be assisting over 300 kids.  It was a little intense at first, but they were all wonderful kids.  For this event, the kids rotated between stations and heard lessons on wildlife, soil, forestry, fish management, 4H natural resources and water/water safety.  At the end of the day, all the kids were given a shirt that was designed by one of the students.  The kids had to do a pre-test before the event and then did a post-test following.  Upon reviewing them, those kids did learn a lot. The neat part was watching the kids asking questions and being actively engaged.  They were learning and having fun at the same time, it was so wonderful to see. 

4th Graders Arriving at Pokagon Park
The last youth education event I assisted with this year was for 4th graders at Wabash County’s annual Ag Expo.  It was similar to the other two events, but the stations were different.  For their event, there were topics on ATV safety, dairy cows, water erosion (shown by a stream table), birds of prey, pollinators and shearing of sheep and alpacas.  I assisted with the stream table where the kids learned about the effects of erosion and pollution by watching running water start at the top of the table and work its way down.  The kids could see the effect of the water.  At one point, one of the fake cows that was standing at the top an embankment fell into the stream due to the erosion of the bank.  This got a good laugh from the kids, but also allowed for a teachable moment.  Not only was it entertaining, but they also learned that we need to take care of our soil.  
The Stream Table
I really enjoyed spending time with the youth in those counties.  Having the kids outside the classroom to learn about conservation and to meet people in the field that assist farmers and also protect our natural resources was really beneficial.  At all three events, the kids got something out of each session, and in some cases even mentioned that they were going to share what they had learned with their family.  For me, personally, it was the “common water” session that hit home for the students.  Kid after kid talked about rain barrels and how they wanted one for their house.  For them to take away at least one thing that they learned to share with their parents is a wonderful thing.  While they might not be current land owners, they will be one day and one of these events can help them in understanding the importance and responsibility of taking care of our soil and water.  That is a wonderful thing. 

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