In Steuben County, there are 101 recognized lakes. These lakes serve as recreational landscapes for a large portion of the community, catch basins for runoff, and home to many wildlife. As such, the recreational community, the agricultural community, and natural environment have the challenge of sharing the natural resources and getting along in the process. In addition, Steuben County is a hunter's delight as wildlife abound. It serves our community well to begin the conversation about conservation early in a community like ours.
Multiple community partners who have a vested interest in the natural resources teamed to offer youth conservation programming to fourth grade students. Natural resources education by community partners served as one avenue to meet several Indiana Academic Standards for fourth grade. Youth progressed through six stations in which they learned about water quality, forestry, fish, wildlife, and soils in the natural environment.
Volunteers were recruited and facilities were secured for every station. Qualified presenters taught about natural resources using hands-on education. A written evaluation was administered at the close of the event to capture the knowledge gained, changes in attitude, and potential behavior changes.
295 written evaluations were collected from students in which 92% of the student respondents recognized they could easily improve water quality in our community by picking up trash to keep it out of the waterways and/or by encouraging their parents to use less fertilizers and pesticides at home. 92% felt they used observation skills to study nature during Conservation Field Day, 79% felt they used problem solving skills, and 84% indicated they saw the outdoors in a new way at Conservation Field Day. 86% recognized that since there are limited natural resources, humans sometimes have to manage forests, fish populations, and the ecological balance of predators/prey.
When asked how humans could reduce their impact on the environment, answers included: pick up trash, do not litter, recycle, use biofuels, cut less trees down, plant trees, ride bicycles, keep the lakes clean, don’t use many fertilizers, and plant more seeds/plants.
More importantly than the knowledge gained, 85% of the youth reported a behavior change as they stated they plan to increase the amount they recycle at home as a result of Conservation Field Day. 85% plan to spend more time exploring the outdoors.
11 written evaluations were collected from teachers, and 91% of the fourth grade teachers stated the educational lessons will better prepare their students for the ISTEP test. 100% indicated the field trip will save them time and energy in regards to lesson planning as they prepare students for the ISTEP test and that school hours were well spent on the field trip.