Berkeley Township sixth graders visited northern New Jersey this week for an environmental education experience at the New Jersey School of Conservation in Stokes State Forest. Students got the chance to experience a variety of classes through the efforts of Berkeley Township school coordinator Kathy Palagonia and NJSOC Program Coordinator Lisa Mills. Courses included various ecology classes to give students a better understanding of the ecosystem, and outdoor pursuits classes that allowed students to try new outdoor activities.
Large mammals are often the most charismatic and exciting species in the forest. Berkley students learned about two of NJSOC’s most prominent species, black bears and beavers. Both classes focus on the ways these animals interact with the environment and their place in the ecosystem. Students discussed the characteristics of the species, and then they get outside to look for signs in the wild. Black Bear Ecology students observed bear scratchings on poles, as well as old den sites. Later in the week, some of the students were even lucky enough to see a bear around the NJSOC campus! Beaver ecologists hiked to the site of an old beaver lodge and discussed the pressures that might have caused the animals to leave, which may include presence of otters in the area.
The sixth graders had the chance to get into the woods during Forest Ecology and Questing. Forest Ecology focuses on the trees of Stokes State forest, and their importance to both animals and humans. Students hiked through the woods and identified different tree species and learned about their ecological roles. During Questing, students were tasked with finding their way through the forest by following a set of clues. Each clue lead them to a station where they focused on one aspect of the larger ecosystem. Students learned about birds, amphibians, mammals, and tree species; as well as the important role each one plays in the wilderness community.
Along with the forest, students spent time learning about Lake Wapalanne and the habitat it provides. During Water Ecology, the sixth graders got a big picture view of one of the most important resources on earth. They then spent time around the lake searching for macroinvertebrates – small creatures that lack a backbone and live in water. These macroinvertebrates provide an important food source for many larger aquatic species and can also be an excellent indicator of water quality due to their sensitivity to pollution. Students also learned more about fish during Fish Ecology, and were even lucky enough to catch a few Bluegill and Pumpkinseed sunfish from the lake. During Boating, the students got out on the lake to practice their canoeing skills, keeping their eyes peeled for aquatic species including various turtles and birds.
The sixth graders had plenty of opportunities to enjoy different athletic activities outdoors. Students had the chance to practice their target shooting at Archery, and even got in a bit of friendly competition as they improve their skills with the bows. They got out of their comfort zones and off the ground at the confidence course and climbing wall. Both sessions encouraged students to push themselves. At the confidence course, students worked together trying out various low ropes elements. The climbing wall sent them into the air as students had the chance to climb both a 20-foot and 35-foot wall and rappel down.
After an exciting and fun-filled week, all the educators would like to thank Berkeley Township Elementary School for another wonderful trip. Special thanks to all the parents, teachers, and chaperones who made the trip possible. We look forward to seeing you again next year!
By Katie Tharrett