School at the creek

Published 10:08 pm Monday, October 17, 2016

Middle school students took a step away from their desks and a step into nature on Monday morning.

Seventh graders and teachers from John Yeates and Forest Glen Middle schools gathered at Bennett’s Creek Park and participated in the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance’s salt marsh program.

The purpose of the program was to give students a hands-on experience of the area’s marsh life and its inhabitants.

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“You get to see and you get to touch real science,” said Karla Smith, one of the foundation’s education program directors. “You’re not just reading about it in a book.”

The students were divided into groups and rotated among the site’s four learning stations.

The first station focused on wildlife and stormwater runoff. Here, students observed the skulls and footprints of marsh wildlife. They also engaged with an interactive model showing runoff in action.

The second station involved students testing and analyzing turbidity and other characteristics of the creek and mapping the coordinates of the tests.

The third station, a student favorite, got students in the water, as they used nets to capture and study marine life.

The last station involved a unique way to study buffers and plants. Students were given Frisbees and attempted to toss them into bins placed at different locations along the park’s outskirts.

After the toss attempts at each bin, students gathered around and listened to Smith explain the surrounding plant and tree species and natural buffers.

Teachers and students alike love the unique program.

“When it’s hands-on, they retain it really easily,” said Deborah Askew, seventh-grade life sciences teacher at John Yeates. “You get to see the kids that are quiet in the classroom really blossom out here. This is something they will never forget.”

“My first-semester kids always tell the second-semester kids to go and do it,” said Melissa Leuschen, seventh grade science teacher at Forest Glen.

“You’re not just sitting in class,” said Genevive Owens, a student at John Yeates. “It’s fun.”

The program has been running for close to four years, according to Smith. In addition, the foundation hosts presentations at the city schools.

NRPA volunteer Mike Reiss believes the program exposes students to things they typically wouldn’t learn.

“When I was a kid, I used to run around the creek for hours,” he said. “These kids don’t do that anymore.”

King’s Fork and John F. Kennedy Middle school students will take a stab at the salt marsh program on Tuesday.