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Students enjoy hands-on day at the river

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Jason Hallacher, a fish technician with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, holds large mouth bass for seventh grade Peter Muhlenberg Middle School students to observe Monday during a field trip to the Shenandoah River in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Tim Reedy, 12, holds a hellgrammite that his group discovered in the river using a seine net during Peter Muhlenberg Middle School 7th grade science field trip to the shenandoah river east of Woodstock on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

The seventh-grade students from Peter Muhlenberg Middle School were treated to a day of sun, fun and a little learning on Monday during their field trip to the Shenandoah River in Woodstock.

For the third year in a row, seventh-grade science teachers Natalie Rhodes and Jaimie Nichols were able to take almost 200 students to a riverside lot for a chance to apply what they've learned in the past two years.

Though their funding was frozen this year, Rhodes said the science department were able to get together enough money for the day's events, as it was for a good cause.

"A lot of these kids will never have this opportunity," she said.

"They'll spend their whole summer inside playing video games," Nichols added.

For the trip, the youth were technology-free, and instead spent the morning and part of the afternoon at different stations to learn about the river, watersheds, local species and habitats.

Trout Unlimited ran a few stations to show students how to make and tie bait for fishing. They also got kids in the river looking for macro-invertebrate and other small organisms. By identifying the creatures, students could determine the river quality.

Another station allowed students to actually test the water quality.

Andrew Moomaw, 13, of Edinburg, said the testing went well "except for the turbidity."

"It was a bit murky," he explained.

He and fellow student Cady Hockman, 12 of Maurertown, gave an enthusiastic yes when asked if science was their favorite subject.

"It'd be cool to be a game warden," Hockman said.

Both students enjoyed the station run by a few employees of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Steve Reeser, a fish biologist, and Jason Hallacher, a fish technician, caught different species of fish Monday morning to show to the youth. They demonstrated how to take a fish's pulse through electroshocking, but also tied in "buzz words" and other standards of learning that the kids could relate to.

"We try to incorporate what they learn in class when we do these educational events," Reeser said. He added that the department's staff was a little low this year, and as a result they couldn't do as many of the trips as they used to.

However, they've made it to all three river events, as it's a "high impact" learning opportunity, Hallacher said.

"We really try to steer them toward understand how all this works together and why it's important," he said.

Cady explained why the hands-on field trip helps students like her and Andrew.

"We're kinesthetic learners, so we learn by doing," she said. "Things like this just make such a bigger and better imprint on our brains."

Andrew agreed and expressed his gratitude for the day trip.

"It's great that the teachers care enough about us learning to bring us out here," he said.

Rhodes intends to continue offering the experience to future students, but said that some fundraising and possible sponsorships might be necessary.

"It's so important for our generation and for future generations to keep this river clean," said Cady on what she took from the day. "It's a part of everyone's life."

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