MILES, Iowa — A group of Bellevue Elementary School fifth-graders stood at the water’s edge with nets in hand on Thursday at Green Island Wildlife Management Area.
The fifth-graders swept their nets through the water, looking for frogs, snails and other creatures that would help them get a sense of the water’s quality.
“We’ve gotten a lot of frogs,” student Vanessa Steines said.
The Bellevue fifth-graders are spending their whole week learning in the outdoors as part of School of the Wild, a University of Iowa program being offered locally this month with the help of staff from Jackson County Conservation and area schools. Fifth-graders from the Easton Valley and Andrew school districts participated in the program last week, and students from the Maquoketa Community School District will attend next week.
Through the program, students get to know the parks in their community and connect with the environment.
“They need to be reconnected with their world, and unless they’re in it, we can’t do that,” said Jennifer Meyer, a naturalist for Jackson County Conservation.
On Thursday, one group of students scooped small animals out of the water and into buckets, then was tasked with identifying and classifying them based on their pollution tolerance.
“This water is really good,” fifth-grader Jalyn Heim said, noting that she and her classmates also tested the water for its pH, nitrates, nitrites and dissolved oxygen.
This week, the fifth-graders are spending several hours a day at Bellevue State Park, Felderman Park in Bellevue and at Green Island, located southeast of Bellevue. Their days include activities such as canoeing, nature walks, learning to build fires and shelters and testing water quality.
While many of the activities are based in science, students also practice other school disciplines through journaling and learning about the history of Bellevue State Park, said Jessica Wagner, environmental education coordinator for Jackson County Conservation.
“We want them to see the parks in the community,” Wagner said. “We really hope that they come back and share this with their families.”
Bellevue Elementary School Principal Jeanette Hartung-Schroeder said the program exposes the students to a multitude of opportunities they wouldn’t normally have in the classroom.
“It was learning that they’ll remember the rest of their lives,” she said.
Fifth-grader Kenzingten Scheckel said that this week she has had the chance to hike and test water quality. Some of the lessons she has learned so far include the kinds of flowers she can eat and how to use a compass.
“It’s fun because it’s in, like, a different setting,” she said. “I feel like you have a little bit more fun when you learn outdoors.”