Fifth graders learn about food webs, forestry, fish on Conservation Tour

Sep 20, 2023 | Featured, Schools | 0 comments

Students head out on a tram tour of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.


Students observe a water sample at the Lake Erie Fishing station.

When Sue Bixler, a Stone Lab Education and Outreach Assistant, placed Leonard, an Eastern Fox Snake, into the hands of 11-year-old Sam Agsten during the Ottawa County Area Fifth Grade Conservation Field Day at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge last week, he was surprised by the feel of the snake.

“When I held it, it felt like hard Jell-O,” Agsten said.

Agsten was one of more than 400 fifth graders from eight Ottawa County schools who attended the 61st Annual Fifth Grade Conservation Tour. The two-day event focused on state science standards for fifth graders.

“Our mission is to get kids outside and let them see what they’ll be learning in the classroom,” said Becky Simpson, Environmental Educator and Fiscal Manager for the Ottawa Soil & Water Conservation District. “It’s so hard for schools to come up with funding for field trips, so we wanted to provide education and also get them out here to have fun.”

The students traveled to nine stations set up across the refuge, where they learned about topics like food webs, forestry and fish. They learned to identify trees, as well as the invasive species that hurt them, and the importance of being strong stewards of the land. Black Swamp Bird Observatory Outreach Director Jasmine Cupp led a bird station.

“We’re teaching them about bird banding, migration and birds in general,” Cupp said.

A fifth grade girl enjoys the chance to hold Leonard, and Eastern Fox Snake.

Learning about Leonard was a favorite activity – for some of the kids.

“I don’t really like snakes. It felt weird,” said Rylan Sandrock, 10, of Oak Harbor.

Xander Flower, 10, of Oak Harbor said it wasn’t the first time he held a snake, but he still had fun holding Leonard.

“It was cool holding it. It felt like a hot dog,” said 11-year-old Jamere Pendleton of Oak Harbor. “It constricted me a little bit.”

Field day was made possible by the help of partnering agencies, including the Ottawa County Cabinet of Superintendents; OSU Stone Lab; Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge; Ohio Department of National Resources Wildlife and Forestry divisions; OSS Solid Waste District; OSU Extension, 4H, Ohio Sea Grant and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.

“My partners have to set aside two full days to do this, and there have never been any issues,” Simpson said. “They like coming out here and educating fifth graders.”

Thanks to their support, over 400 kids spent a day at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge learning that science can be fun.

“I find kids don’t get outside in settings like this,” said Mike Libben, District Program Administrator for Ottawa Soil & Water Conservation District. “This gives them the chance to visit Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, which is a major attraction in Ottawa County.”

Sue Bixler’s fifth grade audience is reflected in her glass as she talks about Leonard, an Eastern Fox Snake.

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