Fourth-grade students from a Utah elementary school piled off the bus into the Wasatch National Forest, where different nature learning stations awaited them.
These lucky Redwood Elementary School students were participating in a BioBlast — an event meant to engage students in wildlife, nature and ecology — put on by the Bureau of Land Management-Utah Salt Lake Field Office Wildlife Program and its partners, including universities, the state and other agencies.
“I really find hope in the future through our youth,” said Emily Jencso, a wildlife biologist with the BLM Salt Lake Field Office who proposed and organized the event. Jencso chose to involve Redwood Elementary School, a school just a mile from the BLM office with a diverse student body. “It’s especially important to engage minority and underprivileged youth,” Jencso said.
She used the BLM’s Educational Opportunity Program dollars to develop the event, modeling it off Every Kid in the Park, a federal interagency program created by former President Barack Obama in which fourth-graders receive free admission to national parks.
Jencso and her colleagues created learning stations for the students that related to the fourth grade curriculum, such as the water cycle and macroinvertebrate identification.
“When it was time to rotate stations, one of my favorite things happened,” Jencso said. “I was at the macroinvertebrate station and students were looking at macroinvertebrates in the water buckets and writing in their field journals. It was time to rotate and nobody was moving. That’s true engagement.”
The students also hiked with wildlife biologists along a beautiful lake in search of pikas (Ochotona princeps), spotting hawks and deer along the way.
“These are things we take for granted,” Jencso said. “When you live in an urban setting and put them in the mountains like that, and you’re using the surroundings as an education tool, I think it’s empowering.”
One boy was proud of himself because he spotted a pika before the biologist, she said. Jencso also watched as students learned to use magnifying glasses on their own and enjoyed getting down in the dirt.
Even if the students don’t go on to work for federal agencies or natural resources, Jencso hopes the event sparked an interest in public lands and the outdoors. “If one kid is influenced that’s all it takes,” she said.
Jencso said the BLM Utah Salt Lake Field Office plans to work with the fourth-graders more and have planned a “bat week” program. “This is the targeted age for influence with science and the outdoors,” she said.
This year’s success has motivated Jencso make BioBlast an annual event. “Just listening to the students talking about how beautiful it is was great,” she said. “I heard a few kids say ‘I’m going to bring my parents back up here.’”
And the students will get the chance to explore nature even more. Each student received an America the Beautiful Pass, which provides them with free access to federal lands and waters for one year with their families.
|Dana Kobilinsky is associate editor at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.|
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