Orwell pupils use floating classroom

SUDBURY –– Fourteen kids and two teachers guided their canoes away from the shores of Lake Hortonia and paddled over to a small bay full of lily pads and milfoil, looking around at the different plants and wildlife and taking samples from the water.
The group went out to the lake this past Thursday as part of the five-day East Creek Project, a canoe day camp for students from Orwell Village School that is sponsored by the Vermont Community Foundation’s South Lake Champlain Fund.
Barb Young, a teacher at the school, leads the project and has done so for the past six years. She explained the benefits of having a program such as this one.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to learn about the environment, to have fun in the environment and hopefully create a love for the environment that will continue,” she said.
Each day the students go out on the canoes to a different body of water in the morning and early afternoon. Then they return to the school to work on their journals and compile daily reports. They will ultimately compile a booklet of their findings that also will include pictures and stories about their experiences.
The program is an extension of class work the students do during the academic year, though it is an optional fun summer camp.
“We do a lot of environmental science and it’s part of the seven-eight science (curriculum),” she said. “I’ll take kids out on Lemon Fair (River) or East Creek during the school year a couple times.”
On the first two days the group paddled around East Creek. The first day they learned about the plants and animals they saw, and the second they spent with the Nature Conservancy helping pick water chestnuts, an invasive plant species. Many of the students enjoyed this community service.
Eighth-grader Sydney Smith described her experience picking the weeds.
“I liked picking water chestnuts,” she said. “It’s fun and gross at the same time. You reach into the water and pull them out.”
The students learned about the plants and wildlife they came across.
“I know more about birds, frog calls and plants now,” said Smith.
Ella Patterson, another eighth-grader, explained that she learned a lot about birds.
“We’ve learned about different species of birds, where they live and what their calls are,” she said.
Tamika Davis, also an eighth-grader, enjoyed being with friends while learning about the environment.
“I like hanging out with friends and learning new things,” she said. “We learned about different frogs. We have a frog caller and we match it up with them.”
Smith agreed with Davis.
“I like hanging out with friends while doing something productive with the environment,” she said.
Student Isabelle Nichols especially enjoyed canoeing.
“I love going out on the water and just paddling around and looking at nature,” she said.
As they learned about flora and fauna, the kids tested the water with various measures. They used underwater telescopes to peer beneath the water’s surface.
“We’re testing pH, we’re testing temperature, we’re testing the different coloration of the water,” said Young. “We’re looking at the plant life, we’re identifying the other signs of wildlife, the fish, the invertebrates, the occasional snake and the different kinds of frogs we see.”
On Wednesday the group went out on the Lemon Fair. Friday, they paddled around Lake Champlain from the mouth of East Creek.
Young summed up the goals of the program, emphasizing the fun factor.
“We’re looking at the plant life, we’re looking at the water quality, collecting data and just creating a fun time for the kids,” she said.
A contest to find the biggest lily pad reflected this goal. The kids paddled through patches of lily pads, eagerly looking around for the largest ones and debating which one to pick for the contest.
Games like this combined with the educational canoe trips struck the right note with the kids.
Nichols enthusiastically endorsed the program.
“I think it’s amazing and I love it a lot,” she said.
Reporter Kaitlyn Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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