Tiny aquatic insects jetted around a glass dish as a group of fifth-graders from the New York Avenue School in Atlantic City tried to carefully capture a few to get a closer look.
Malik Cannon, 10, and Patrick Randolph, 11, worked hard to make a catch. Les Murray, a volunteer at the Forsythe Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township, kept encouraging them.
“It’s moving!” Malik said.
“I know it’s moving. It’s alive!,” Murray told him. “There’s a biggie. Get him.”
“This dude’s fast,” Patrick said.
“Yes! He got it!” Malik shouts.
This was one of many moments 50 fifth-graders from the Atlantic City school enjoyed as they spent the day at the wildlife refuge learning about birds, bugs, plants, water and many other aspects of the local ecology. The trip was part of National Kids to Parks Day, designed to get children outdoors and exploring nature. Accompanying the students were volunteers from Caesars Entertainment, which also paid for the trip through a grant.
Grace Lee, executive director of the National Park Trust, said there are multiple reasons why the organization tries to expose children to nature, including studies that have shown that children perform better in school when they have access to the outdoors.
The program specifically targets underserved children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to be exposed to nature when at home, Lee said.
But there's also another reason: Trying to encourage and educate students about conservation. "We know that the next generation of young people are going to be the ones to protect special places like the refuge," Lee said. "It's important to connect them now."
Students on Wednesday’s field trip looked at birds, drew pictures, looked at bugs underneath microscopes and learned about the various ecosystems within the refuge. When the rain began falling too hard, they were taken inside buses or the visitor center for other lessons.
Fifth grader Ruth Dorilas, 12, said that one of the most interesting things she learned on the trip was that there was red and green poison ivy on trees. The trip was her first time at Forsythe Refuge. “You get to learn and explore nature,” she said. “There’s lots of stuff in nature you can look at.”
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