BENNINGTON -- Nineteen local home-schooled students took a field trip on Wednesday to One World Conservation Center, where they learned about many of the different creatures that live in the wetlands of Vermont. Then they got to experience those creatures firsthand.
The program was the final in a series of four that began in January. Taught by OWCC's education coordinator Jen Loyd-Pain and educator and naturalist Mary Batcheller, the previous three sessions had covered "The Wonders of Weather," "Winter Ecology," and "Forestry." This month's class, "Wetlands," allowed the students to "Discover more about life cycles, interesting characteristics and adaptations of the animals in this habitat, and how we can determine wetland health," according to a flyer for the event. Each of the classes lasted approximately two hours and cost $8 per child, and $7 for each additional child in the family.
The program began inside the conservation center, with Loyd-Pain and Batcheller instructing the children, who ranged from K-8th grade, although many were not familiar with the "grade" system, on some of the animals that the group may encounter on their trek through the wetlands. Batcheller asked the students to go around in a circle and say their name, and "something they wonder" about wetlands. While many students couldn't come up with questions, some wondered whether animals like salamanders and moose lived in the wetlands. Batcheller then took the students through a PowerPoint presentation of some animals they might encounter.
Finally, it was time to cross the street into The Greenberg Reserve. Students donned their waterproof boots and nets, and were handed cards for "Wetlands Bingo." Among the items they were tasked with finding were turtles, frogs, ducks, newts, cattails, and beavers. They were split into two groups, based on age, with Batcheller taking the older group and Loyd-Pain taking the younger group. One group would explore the area around Kettle Pond, while the other would explore under the wooden bridge at the Jewett Creek Crossing. After about 15 minutes, the groups switched places. Batcheller instructed the students to leave no trace, even to the point of putting back displaced mud. "If you get mud out, put mud back. Make sure we leave it exactly like it was when we got there," she said.
It didn't take long for the older group, who started at the pond, to find something exciting. Batcheller demonstrated proper technique for scooping up mud with her net and found two fingernail clams on her first scoop. A few minutes later, Arielle Duguay-Barton, 11, of Cambridge, N.Y., shouted, "I got a salamander! Or maybe a tadpole!" from a few yards away. "I saw some bubbles over there, so I scooped there! I can't believe I got something on my first try!"
The animal, which turned out to be a newt, was the prize catch of the older group, but the younger group had success as well, catching a leech that, according to Loyd-Pain, was one of the largest she had ever seen. After the younger kids got a chance to see the newt, it was released back into the pond where it was found.
Batcheller also teaches weekly classes for home-schoolers through her program, "Learning Trails." She has taught home-school for 17 years, and had worked as an environmental educator for the Buffalo Museum of Science, 4-H, and various nature preserves. "The best way to learn science is to do it!" reads the banner on her website.
"They come from all over," said Loyd-Pain of the students and their parents, "from New York, the Bennington area. We don't get many from Massachusetts, for whatever reason, so be sure to spread the word!" While Wednesday's class was the last of the spring, Loyd-Pain said that hopefully a new series of classes would begin in the fall.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB