First came the SOU M.S. Environmental Education graduate students, ready to teach a Fall in the Field program at Ashland Pond.
Next came the graduate students a year behind them, ready to observe, lend a hand, and take notes for next year’s Fall in the Field program.
Then, finally, came the bus full of yippity, skippity, second graders, full of questions and desires, ready to explore.
“Where is the pond?”
“When is lunch?”
“Are there any animals?”
“How far is it?”
“This one time…”
The students wasted no time and were finding scat, tracks, birds’ nests, and more treasures as soon as they hit the trail.
During their walk around Ashland Pond they learned about habitat – how food, water, shelter, and air make up a habitat. Through a nature scavenger hunt they found the elements that make up the habitat at Ashland Pond.
Students practiced “fox walking”, walking very quietly and deliberately so not to scare off animals. They cupped their hands around their ears to form “deer ears” to hear well. They also used “owl eyes” to use their peripheral vision to detect movement.
Some of the students saw a Steller’s jay. An instructor described how the Steller’s jay has an interdependent relationship with the forest. The bird needs the forest for building materials for its nest and berries for food and the forest relies on the Steller’s jay for seed dispersal. The students looked for more interdependent relationships.
At the end of their walk, students made a topographic map of the area that included their school and Ashland Pond. Students learned about their watershed and how what we do as humans on the land can affect places like at Ashland Pond.
After a quick break for lunch, students helped restore specific habitats around Ashland Pond. Invasive Himalayan blackberries had recently been removed and native plants were planted in their place. Students helped put mulch around the native plants, which would hold in moisture and keep out the invasive blackberries.
The students loved it, gathering bucketfuls of mulch to build a fortress for every plant.
After all of their hard work, the students had one more important mission. As a class they planted their own native red osier dogwood along the bank of Ashland Creek. As the tree grows, it will help stabilize the bank, provide shade, and act as a food source for animals.
An instructor explained that the students could come back and visit their tree anytime. “I also have something special that you can take home,” she added, producing a small bag of milkweed seeds.
She explained the interdependent relationship between monarch butterflies and milkweed. Monarch butteries will only lay their eggs in milkweed and the larvae will only eat the milkweed leaves. The adult monarchs help pollinate the milkweed. Sadly, milkweed is in decline. There is milkweed at Ashland Pond and people are planting more to help the monarch butteries on their long migration – all the way from Mexico to Canada! Also, we as humans rely on pollinators like the monarch butterfly for our food. By planting milkweed, we can help the milkweed and monarchs, and in turn ourselves.
At last the time had come to say goodbye. The instructors waved their second grader friends farewell.
But the day didn’t end there. The instructors (Cohort 9 members) sat down with the new graduate students (Cohort 10) and their trusty professor, Linda, to debrief the day.
At the end of the day, what mattered most to all of us was that the students had fun and learned something new.
I think we accomplished that.
Written by: Hope Braithwaite
Photos by: Mikell Nielsen