A casual observer driving past Marion’s Central Park last Wednesday may have said to themselves, “There’s that old environmental thing they do every year,” and at one level, that’s what Envirofest is.
But to the participants, area fourth graders and adults, it’s never old, even though most of the exhibits and exhibitors have been there before.
“It’s always fascinating to see what the kids come up with,” county extension agent Ricky Roberts said. “I bring the same trailer every year, but at the same time I’m not sure I ever present it the same way twice.”
Roberts’s watershed exhibit was one of nine activities arranged by organizer Peggy Blackman to introduce students from Marion, Hillsboro, Peabody-Burns, and a private Christian school to environmental concepts that pertain to things they see and experience every day.
“Some kids are more prepared than others because of their backgrounds,” Roberts said. “Whether that comes from what they’re learning in school or maybe what their experience is at home, I don’t know. There’s always great questions asked.”
Hillsboro Elementary School teacher Rod Just, who teaches science to fourth graders, is an Envirofest veteran. He uses his experience to decide what to introduce in classes before the event.
“The thing that’s nice about Envirofest is that the topics fit with some of the standards and outcomes we teach,” he said. “I can touch on it and teach it in class, and then the kids have the hands-on teaching so they can see it and participate in it.”
A good complement this year was the macro invertebrates station manned by Lloyd Davies of Marion, which featured creatures without internal bone structures that were collected from local lakes and streams.
“We teach about vertebrates and invertebrates,” Just said. “He shows live examples that come right from our area, and I really like that.”
Marion Elementary School teacher Sheila Baldwin shifted to a fourth-grade class this year, so this was her first experience of the event.
“We didn’t know what Envirofest would be like,” she said. “We told students what the stations would be and what they would be learning, but we didn’t go into great detail. I think the kids were truly amazed. They went on and on about what a great day it was.”
The hands-on approach builds on experiences children had in earlier grades, Baldwin said.
“They have lots of experiences that are similar, and often we bring people in to share knowledge on these subjects,” she said. “It’s kind of neat they can go out and experience it in the open air classroom.”
Twin Lakes WRAPS coordinator Angela Anderson had a stream trailer to demonstrate the effects of water flow on landscapes. She was impressed by the knowledge many children had.
“There were some I felt like I could hand over the reins and let them do the presentations,” she said.
It’s a learning event for presenters, too, as they exchange ideas during lunch break.
“We talk about what we’re seeing out of the classes, funny moments, things that open our eyes that we haven’t thought of,” she said. “I always pick up ideas.”
Just said the event has always been a hit with his students.
“One thing I hear almost every year is that this is one of their favorite field trips,” he said. “That’s a great thing for what they’re doing with Envirofest.”
The event is sponsored by Marion WRAPS, Marion County Conservation District, NRCS, Marion County Farm Bureau, and Carlsons’ Grocery.