Eagle Ambassadors, Inc. - Students Explore Nature at Bald Eagle Area’s Environmental Center

Students Explore Nature at Bald Eagle Area’s Environmental Center

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By Rose Hoover

Mountaintop Elementary kindergarten students discuss what they saw on a pond walk at the Bald Eagle Area Environmental Center.

 

Howard Elementary fifth-graders examine the pond water for living creatures. Pictured from left: Naudiya Ergott, Peightin Brownson, Claudia Irvin, Keira McKinley and Jossilyn Pearce.

 

Port Matilda Elementary students (Tristan Eveleth, left, Colton Haagen and Cole Rice) observe the process of transpiration in the leaves of a tree growing next to the pond.

What child doesn’t love going on a field trip? The Bald Eagle Area School District has a special field trip spot where students can enjoy engaging science experiences—the Bald Eagle Area Environmental Center. Each school year, elementary students from Howard, Mountaintop, Port Matilda, and Wingate have a wonderful time expanding their knowledge, outside of the traditional classroom, during class field trips to BEA’s very own environmental center.

History
A two-thirds acre pond is located behind the baseball fields on the middle/high school complex. The pond was originally constructed for fire protection, as there was no public water system or fire hydrants available when the school was built in the 1950s. For more than 50 years, the pond was forgotten—left alone to the cattails, bullfrogs, and geese that called it home. But in 2008, the peacefulness of the area was broken for a few days by the buzz of chainsaws used by supervised inmates from the Rockview state prison, as they cleared saplings, brush, and poison ivy from the fenced area surrounding the pond. Work on the envisioned Bald Eagle Area Environmental Center had begun.

During the summer of 2009, students participating in the Workforce Development Program cleared invasive plants, such as autumn olive, from around the perimeter of the pond. The area above the pond was reforested. BEA students, assisted by the Woodland Owners of Centre County, planted 750 seedlings, donated by the state Game Commission, to help prevent nutrient loading and soil erosion into the pond.

Grants from Lowe’s and the Department of Environmental Protection were secured to supplement the construction and development of the environmental center classroom. Grant monies from the Chesapeake watershed provided learning materials for the center to make the facility operational. Specialists from Penn State and various watershed groups were consulted for their expertise to assess and inspect the condition of the pond.

The Bald Eagle Environmental Center Classroom
The Environmental Center’s bins and cupboards are all neatly filled with assorted testing equipment—muck boots, nets, microscopes, thermometers, magnifying glasses, beakers, and various other supplies. There are large garage-sized doors, usually kept open, on all sides of the building. Each has a different picturesque view of nature. Depending on which doorway the students look through, they see a grassy field, a nearby corn field, the forested hillside, or—best of all—the beautiful pond, teeming with seen and unseen life.

The round tables in the center’s classroom are perfect for collaborative learning, and for occasional snacks. Fishing poles can be seen leaning in the corner, waiting to be cast out for a curious and hungry bass or catfish (all fishing is catch and release). A dock, completely fenced in for safety, is attached to the Environmental Center classroom. The floor has a trap door built into it, which allows the students to conduct water testing experiments, even in inclement weather, under the safety of the porch roof.

Environmental Center Field Trips
Teachers reserve the Environmental Center for the day and secure chaperones to help with activities. BEA retired teacher volunteers are available to help, too. Children from the outlying elementary schools at Howard, Mountaintop, and Port Matilda are bused to the site. Students from the nearby Wingate Elementary school are close enough that they can walk to the area.

Field trip educational activities are geared to the age of the students. Kindergarten students may play environmental games, such as Rainbow Scavenger Hunt, where students need to find items that are colored red, yellow, pink and green—and all the colors of the rainbow. Sitting around the tables inside the center, they draw pictures of the animals and plants they had observed around the pond. Large clear plastic containers, filled with pond water samples containing tadpoles and newts, are examined.

Activities for the older students are more comprehensive. They conduct in-depth studies of the pond water, including pH, temperature, and turbidity; and observe the process of transpiration, part of the water cycle, in leaves. Port Matilda teacher Roger Proctor said this experiment is “meaningful and ties in beautifully with their classroom water unit studies.” Students secure a plastic bag around portions of tree leaves, and then check back in a few hours to observe how much water has been collected.

Students learn about how stressors (such as carp) affect the animals and plants that are native to the pond area, and take a pond walk around the area, using all of their senses to observe what they hear and see. Observing pond water samples, they find and identify the aquatic insects that are critical to the life of the pond, such as mayfly nymphs. They learn that the quality of the pond can be judged by the variety, number, and types of creatures they find. They learn that BEA’s pond is fairly healthy.

Students never know what they may see around the Environmental Center—perhaps a mother goose swimming on the pond, with her goslings paddling behind her.

The pond area is an ever-changing outdoor classroom just waiting to be explored. Students never know what they may see around the Environmental Center—perhaps a mother goose swimming on the pond, with her goslings paddling behind her; or maybe a nest, with eggs; maybe a water snake or some newts. Perhaps they’ll see some bullfrogs, sitting very close to the shoreline among the cattails, and they will get to watch their throats bubble as they sing their deep bass songs. There are milkweed plants to see. All sorts of insects, butterflies, and birds make their appearance. A few bluebird, bat, and duck boxes have been built around the pond area to provide additional homes for the native residents.

After a fun-filled morning’s work of scientific discoveries, children unpack a bagged lunch and eat on the dock that overlooks the pond. The students take a break, use the newly built modern restrooms near the Environmental Center, and then are ready for a few more hours of engaged learning before they head back to the classroom.

Bald Eagle Area is proud to be able to provide this opportunity for our students to study, enjoy, and learn how to protect their environment right here at home.

“Our Environmental Center is an unbelievable hands-on resource that follows each of our grade level curriculums and gives students an opportunity to see the environment in a safe, structured manner,” BEA Director of Elementary Education Jim Orichosky said. “The students love it.”