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Nature Trails program breaks down agriculture for second-graders

Kyan Pfister, 14, a Strasburg High School FFA student, backs up as he gives Sandy Hook Elementary School second-grader Gigi Mullins, 7, a rod and reel casting lesson during a Nature Trails visit to the school on Thursday. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg High School has taken a $500 grant and bolstered its Nature Trails program for Sandy Hook Elementary School students.

On Thursday morning about 130 elementary school students trotted down a nature trail behind the high school, stopping to learn about the water cycle, how to identify animal pelts and tracks and get a tasty lesson in soil structure before catching some backyard bass with the Backyard Bass Casting Game.

Brain Fisher is an agriculture teacher at Strasburg and an FFA coordinator. His agriculture and FFA students helped run each of the stations on Thursday.

The stations fit into what the students are learning in their classroom, Fisher said. Teachers give him their lesson plans, and Fisher helps tailor the activities to what the kids are learning.

“The soils is one they’re covering now,” Fisher said. “The water cycle is one they’re covering soon.”

Sandy Hook Elementary School second-grader Llain Gonzalez, 7, casts his fishing rod during the Nature Trails field trip. Rich Cooley/Daily

Some things were just for fun and a chance to get kids interested in being outdoors, Fisher said.

Most of the $500 Agriculture in the Classroom grant went to purchase the 12 fishing poles and Backyard Bass to give kids a chance to learn about fishing.

“The fishing stuff is just kind of a benefit,” Fisher said. “Not a lot of kids get to go fishing anymore.”

James Tharpe is a sophomore at Strasburg who was helping teach kids about fishing. He got involved with the FFA when he was in middle school and said he liked sharing his excitement for agriculture with younger kids.

Working with simple fishing poles, Tharpe and the other FFA students taught the kids the basics of fishing: how to cast, how to line up to catch a fish, how to reel it back in.

Shelby Smith, 17, an agribusiness student at Strasburg High School, uses cereal and cups to show elementary students the different layers of soil. Rich Cooley/Daily

“They’ve been having a really fun time,” Tharpe said. “They’re really enjoying it.”

Tharpe has done a lot with his FFA experience. He said he has cleaned up streams, gone camping, worked for Fisher and volunteers for programs like the Nature Trails Visit.

“I think most kids aren’t shown the outdoors much anymore,” he said. “They’re more into video games and stuff like that. Kids need to be in nature more. I think you can learn a lot from nature.”

Catching fish wasn’t part of any curriculum but learning about soil and how it’s made up is.

Shelby Smith, a senior at Strasburg, was in charge of showing students different levels of soil. Rather than sticking to just pictures or dirt in a jar, Smith and her friends used marshmallows and cereal to show the different layers. After stacking an assortment of sugary cereals on top of the marshmallows — “bedrock” — the kids snacked on the model.

Agriculture in the Classroom provided the funds to buy the materials for the project as well as the idea for it, Smith said. She said she thought it was a great way to get the kids engaged, even if they might have been a little distracted.

“They come up and they see the cereal and go, ‘Ooh food!'” Smith said. “So sometimes we wonder if they hear us all the way.”

Once they can get past the initial excitement, and in before the impending sugar rush, Smith said she has a chance to educate the kids about the basics of agriculture and wildlife.

“Agriculture is something some kids don’t know about,” Smith said. “You have the kids that think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. So this is a good way for them to learn where their food comes from.”