Birds, bugs and berries were just a few of the sights that Horizons Elementary School first-graders took in during a field trip last week to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
But one of the most exciting finds was a fuzzy black and orange caterpillar known as a woolly bear. After gently touching the moth larva, one of the first-graders in a small group led by refuge volunteer Donna Keith, squealed and proclaimed Thursday as “the best day ever.”
All 1,200 first-graders in North Thurston Public Schools will get to spend about three hours this month exploring the 3,000-acre refuge and its education center as part of a new partnership with the district. The refuge provided guided tours, classroom curriculum and two training sessions for teachers so they could incorporate information for the field trip into classroom lessons — all at no charge to the district.
The district picked up the transportation costs for the program, said Joyce Mackiewicz, director of Science, Math and Gifted Programs.
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“This was a completely new experience,” said Heather Sisson, an elementary science instructional specialist for the district. “Most teachers at our elementary schools arrange their own field trips, often with other teachers in the same grade to share transportation expenses.”
The program was designed so that each student could conduct a “field study” at the refuge, which is a project aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, Mackiewicz said. The standards are a set of benchmarks that have been adopted by several states, and are the science equivalent to what Common Core is for math and language.
“The idea is to start that scientific thinking,” Mackiewicz said.
During the field trip, students rotated through stations where they examined animal pelts, bones, bird nests and eggs, learned about the wildlife refuge’s mission and went on a 45-minute guided tour, armed with kid-sized clipboards, worksheets and binoculars made with cardboard tubes from rolls of toilet paper.
“I saw evidence of where a beaver was in the water,” 7-year-old Jathan Moguche said after his tour. “A tree was cut down.”
Dozens of parents signed up to volunteer for the field trip, including Brandon McLucas and Amy Rambo, whose son Logan peered at a red fox skull through a magnifying glass before sketching it on a piece of paper.
Logan didn’t have much to say about the experience, but his dad and step-mom did.
“This is interesting,” Rambo said. “He was so excited when we got here.”
“It’s actually good for the kids,” McLucas said. “It gets them out and lets them learn about wildlife.”