Field Ecology Day gives hands-on learning to nature, wildlife and biology

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

On Wednesday, May 15 and Thursday, May 16, third grade and fifth grade students from around Jefferson County gathered out at the UF/IFAS Jefferson County Extension and 4-H Office in order to learn more about the study of biology and our planet for the annual Field Ecology Day.
Approximately 100 third graders from Jefferson Somerset and Aucilla Christian Academy and over 80 fifth graders from the two schools as well as the Jefferson County Homeschool Co-op participated in this field day.
Students were given hands-on learning opportunities and activities in the fields of biology, ecology and earth science.
On May 15, third graders learned from Dr. Chuck Cichra, a professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences at the University of Florida, about aquatic insects. Students were allowed to hunt for aquatic insects at the extension office pond before Dr. Cichra discussed the roles of aquatic insect role in nature.
At another booth, third graders listened to Tom Gilpin, a forester at Bear Creek Educational Center, as he introduced them to forestry. The students learned how to identify trees and how trees play a vital role in the environment.
David Cook, a biologist from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, held the student's attentions as he brought out live reptiles and amphibians. The students had an opportunity to touch alligators, as well as various snakes, frogs, reptiles and amphibians.
From The Natural Resource Conservation District, Steve Tullar, Mark Demott and Christine Rojas taught students about soil erosion and how to determine the types of soils textures.
The third graders also made bird feeders from pinecones and peanut butter at Tullar, Demott and Rojas' booth.
And finally, Tony Hogg from the Apalachee Beekeepers Association and Jefferson County's local Full Moon Apiary, exposed the students to the different equipment needed to maintain a beekeeping operation and the roles that bees play in our environment.
On May 16, fifth graders learned from Betsy Sullivan, a volunteer from the St. Mark's Refuge, about evaporation, condensation, precipitation and how the earth is affected by water collection.
Danielle Sprague, the Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent at the Jefferson County Extension Office, offered a session about insects, where students had an opportunity to inspect various species of insects and then put their newly found entomology skills to work by collecting their own insects.
Dustin Hart, Abby Godwin, Lance Braswell and Jed Dillard from the Jefferson County Farm Bureau spoke to the students about the importance of corn. The student learned how corn helps protect the environment and showed the countless byproducts that are made from corn.
As a special treat, students also had an opportunity to eat freshly popped popcorn.
Erik Lovestrand, the Franklin County Extension Office Director and Regional Specialized Sea Grant Agent, discussed reptiles and showed students specimens from different reptile species, such as their bones, skulls and shells.
The students were also able to get up close to a live specimen of a legless lizard and viewed a live specimen of a corn snake.
Interns from the Florida Black Bear Management Program shared with the students on how the bear population is managed by state agencies. The students learned about the equipment used for tracking bears, what to do if you encounter a bear and were able to exam bear scat and a bear skull.
The Field Ecology Day is held annually at the Jefferson County Extension Office in order to encourage youth to engage in good stewardship practices over the earth and nature by exercising conservation techniques, understanding native species and appreciating what goes into growing the food that the students consume daily.