For the past 21 years, North Florida Community College has opened its campus to Madison County third graders for a one-day exploration focused on the environment and preserving our natural resources. Ecology Day 2011, sponsored by Madison County 4-H and NFCC, kept that tradition alive with almost 250 area third graders visiting the NFCC campus and Ladell Brothers Outdoor Environmental Center on March 25.
“It gets kids out of the classroom and into nature’s classroom where they can learn to respect nature while they are having fun,” said Beth Moore, Principal of Pinetta Elementary School.
Coordinated by NFCC instructor Bonnie Littlefield, Becky Bennett and Diann Douglas of the Madison County Extension Office, this year¹s Ecology Day consisted of seven outdoor stations that children rotated among to learn about recycling, entomology, forest ecology, water quality, fish and insects, plants, beekeeping and overall preservation of the environment.
“We learned about recycling, fresh water, ponds and lakes; we learned about bee hives and honey and different kinds of trees,” said Karissa of Lee Elementary School. “I learned you can recycle many things and if you recycle you can keep Madison beautiful,” said Gregory Denson of Madison County Central School.
Many community and student volunteers assisted with Ecology Day including approximately 45 NFCC students and S.O.A.R. (Save Our Animal Resources) club members. S.O.A.R. also sponsored lunch for Ecology Day volunteers, presenters and assistants. “S.O.A.R. members feel that this outdoor educational experience is extremely important to support for future generations,” said Littlefield. “Many of them remember when they were 3rd graders and enjoyed the experience.”
Most of the presenters at Ecology Day return year after year to share their knowledge and love of nature with area students. Madison County Recycling representative James Fudge spoke to the children about the importance of recycling and explained what items can and can¹t be recycled. Area foresters led discussions on forest ecology teaching the children about forestry and fire safety.
NFCC instructor Barry Barnhart spoke to the third graders about early pioneers, American Indians and plants. He explained how nature is used in everyday foods, beverages and medicines. Tony Hogg, owner of Full Moon Apiary of Jefferson County, led a beekeeping station and shared information on the life of bees and the important role they play in pollination.
Jan Peters of Florida A&M University¹s Department of Entomology, identified insects and bugs caught by the students and set up a butterfly and insect display for the children to view. Dr. Sharon Fitz-Coy of the University of Florida¹s Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences helped children capture small pond creatures with nets and then identified the creatures and answered questions from students. Representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection were also on site teaching the young students about water quality and preservation. “Kids are pretty disconnected with nature these days and it’s important to get them out into their local environment where they can make observations and learn,” said one DEP representative.
The hands-on approach to learning is very popular among area elementary teachers and third graders who attend Ecology Day each year. Schools attending Ecology Day 2011 were Madison County Central, Pinetta Elementary, Lee Elementary, Greenville Elementary, Madison Academy, LATMA Christian Academy and New Testament Christian School.
The NFCC Ladell Brothers Outdoor Environmental Center is open year round to visitors. School groups or other groups interested in a guided tour should contact Bonnie Littlefield, (850) 973-1687 or LittlefieldB@nfcc.edu, or Dr. Michael Stine at (850) 973-1645 or Stinem@nfcc.edu. More information is also available at http://www.nfcc.edu/community-programs/ladell-nature-center. For more information on Madison County 4-H, visit http://madison.ifas.ufl.edu/4h.shtml.