By Susan Shinn, Catawba College News Service
There was excitement in the air the week of July 11-16, 2010 as 54 rising sixth- and seventh-grade girls descended on Catawba College for the second-annual Catawba Conservation Camp.
All week, the girls rotated through environmental-based modules that centered on five areas of learning, forming the HIPPO acronym:
• Exploring Habitats of plants and animals in the ecological preserve
• Trapping turtles to find an Invasive species
• Using science equipment to test water quality and Pollution
• Simulation of Population extinction
• Investigate Overharvesting of wildlife and fish
Lab work took place inside the college's Center for the Environment, but learning continued the moment the girls stepped out the back door.
Each morning, beginning at 8 a.m., the girls participated in field work. That could mean anything from a trip to Harris Teeter to learn how to choose seafood in an environmentally correct way to trapping turtles, catching fish, banding birds and measuring water levels in the college's 189-acre ecological preserve.
The camp's co-directors were Dr. Cyndi Osterhus, education professor, and Dr. Joe Poston, biology professor. The camp's instructors included: Jennifer Board, a Catawba alumna and science teacher at Carson High School; Brittany Chester, a Catawba alumna and science teacher at West Rowan High School; Dr. Sue Calcagni, director of environmental programming at Catawba; Dr. Connie Lowery, assistant professor of biology at Catawba; Amanda Lanier, a Catawba alumna and programming coordinator at the Center for the Environment.
Additionally, 10 counselors from education or environmental studies spent all week with the girls, serving to enrich their classroom and overall camp experience.
Early Monday morning, Lowery led her group of 11 campers — clad in long pants, long-sleeved shirts, hats and boots — down the trail to the lake. Their goal was to trap fish. Along the way, they examined Asian clams, an invasive species living in a small pond behind the Center.
During the week, Lowery said, students start to understand how the modules relate to the environment, and really become classroom leaders in sharing information with their peers.
Poston, who visited each module during the field work, noted that the girls might also glimpse foxes, snakes, hawks, owls and ducks throughout the week.
Breaking into groups of three or four, the girls in Lowery's group ventured to the edge of the dark water, cicadas buzzing all around them. They began skimming their nets into the water, mostly bringing up sludge at first.
Meanwhile, Board's group was checking the turtles traps that had been set on Sunday.
Maren McCrary was attempting to hold a turtle "hamburger style," encouraged by her counselor, Laura Ritchie. Board explained that the orange-eared sliders they were finding were a hybrid species. The girls then measured, weighed, and tagged these turtles, which are considered invasive species.
This was Ritchie's second year as a conservation camp counselor. "This is a group of girls who really, really wants to do this," said Ritchie, an education major who wants to teach middle-schoolers.
Sarah Bryant of Lexington, a sixth-grader at Tyro Middle School, was enthusiastic about handling the turtles. "It was a very good experience," she said later. "I learned a lot.
I'm very interested in the environment and animals and conservation."
One turtle they marked weighed 1.38 pounds. The biggest turtle caught last year weighed 4.32 pounds. "That's a really big turtle," Board said, explaining a uniform marking system used by all turtle researchers.
Finally, their work was done.
"Bye-bye," Maren said to the turtle, laying it gently at the water's edge, where it quickly swam away.
Meanwhile, Poston was drying off a young robin that sixth-grader Laken Garney found in the water. "I'm fairly certain we can reunite it with its parents," he said, drying off the drenched, squawking bird with a red bandanna. After a few minutes, Poston did just that, to the delight of Laken and the other girls. Laken, a student at Corriher-Lipe Middle School, said she felt good about helping the bird.
Macayla Upright, a seventh-grader at Southeast Middle School, used her net enthusiastically.
"I want to be a wildlife biologist when I grow up," she said. "I wanted to work with all the female scientists here. I love it! It is so fun — but wet!"
Back in the classroom, Macayla and Jamie DeVlieger dumped the contents of their bucket into an aquarium. They'd found several tiny fish and a couple of bugs.
"It sounded really fun because my favorite subject is science," said Jamie, a sixth-grader at Erwin Middle School who lives in Rockwell.
Every moment at camp turned into a learning experience. At lunchtime, Poston explained to the girls about the word "ort" — which is leftover food. He measured the girls' leftover food and beverages — and challenged them to submit less at the next meal.
After lunch, Maren, who'd held a turtle earlier in the day, said that science is her favorite class at school. "I wanted to come because it sounded fun and so far, it is," said the Cannon School sixth-grader. She was fascinated with the turtle traps. "There were so many other things outside that we didn't expect to see but we did," she said.
The Catawba Conservation Camp, funded through a grant from Burroughs Wellcome Fund, is an effort to interest girls in the environmental sciences.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.
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