By Suzanne Schmidt
Zephyrhills elementary students walked the woods, sifted through owl pellets and learned about science and the environment last week at a hands-on learning camp.
The School District of Pasco County provided the camp for about 25 students from each of the 21 Title I elementary schools. Title I federal funding targets support to low-income schools.
Students visited The Energy and Marine Center, Starkey Environmental Education Center, Safety Town’s Environmental Center, Crystal Springs Preserve and the Florida Aquarium.
Laura Hill, supervisor of science at the District School Board of Pasco County, said the students are making connections.
“They will be talking about the environment and what is affecting the environment,” Hill said. “They learn ways to help the environment. They all have science notebooks where they are writing down their lessons. Through the week they will be visiting different places like the Energy Medical Center. There they will be learning about actions they can take to help with the oil spill. It is a good academic experience.”
Carol Pigeon, teacher at Chasco Middle School, is working at the camp to teach children about the environment.
“They are exploring plants and learning about leaves,” Pigeon said. “We went on a walk (at Starkey) and the kids collected plants and leaves. They were figuring out what type of plant they are and what type of environment they live in. You can read all you want, but doing hands-on work is what makes a difference.”
Kapil Patel, 11, a fifth-grader at West Zephyrhills Elementary School, said he loved the camp.
“I learned about orienteering, which is how to use a compass,” Patel said. “I also learned about how to tell whether water is good or bad. If the water is bad then there are leeches in it but if there are sensitive bugs in the water, then it is good.”
For Ryen Ramnauth, 10, fifth-grader at West Zephyrhills Elementary, the trip to Safety Town was his favorite.
“I like that we get to go to different places,” Ramnauth said. “I learned a lot about the different kinds of skulls and insects at Safety Town yesterday.”
Joe Kurtright, a teacher at Hudson Middle School, led an owl lab during camp at Starkey.
“They are getting an introduction into skulls, bones and owls,” Kurtright said. “They are dissecting owl pellets to identify the bones. This is helping them to connect book knowledge to hands-on learning. This is an experience they will never forget.”
The owl pellets were especially fascinating to Chester W. Taylor Elementary School fourth-grader Hunter Hall, 9.
“I learned that it takes 20 days for an owl to make a pellet,” Hall said. “It has bones from its prey in it. I liked looking through the pellet and finding bones, it was fun.”
The camp taught Destiny Jordan, 10, a fourth-grader at Taylor Elementary about the environment.
“I learned about owls and bones,” Jordan said. “I learned that owls have sharp beaks and big eye sockets. I like the camp because I learned about stuff I didn’t know. It was fun.”
Kendra Williamson, 10, a fifth-grader at West Zephyrhills Elementary, said she learned more about animals.
“I learned that we need to take care of the animals, because they need to stay alive,” Williamson said. “We should be treating the animals better.”
Stacie Reese, 17, will be a senior at Zephyrhills High School next year. She was volunteering at the camp to help teach children about science.
“I wanted to volunteer so I could help out and because I love kids,” Reese said. “I think it is good for them to learn this stuff. It gives them the experience of getting out in the Florida habitat.”
Christine Altenes, bus driver and instructional assistant for Pasco County School District, said she loves getting to teach the children about the environment.
“A lot of these kids have never been on this side of the county and seen this type of environment,” Altenes said. “They are learning so much and they don’t even realize it because they are having so much fun.”
The district will continue to host the summer camps for another week and a half. For more information, call (813) 794-2312.