Vernon Community School learns how to map in their own backyard wetlands

The BCWF Wetlands Education Program team traveled to Vernon to deliver a Map our Marshes workshop to 50 excited grade 7-9 students at the Vernon Community School. Students had no problem keeping up to the workshop despite that we usually deliver Map Our Marshes to university and adults groups.

Students learn how to master using a handheld gps

Students learn how to master using a handheld gps

This workshop fit Vernon Community School’s philosophy that “encourages students to pursue their talents and passions with hands-on, project-based, community partnerships”. Although we don’t typically run this workshop for such a young crowd, this school was recommended through a partnership with the Allan Brooks Nature Centre in Vernon. A quick search on the sites revealed that the school’s wetland is recognized as The Clarence Fulton Wetlands Centre of Excellence. This is a national initiative supported by Ducks Unlimited where students use the wetland as an outdoor classroom and feel a sense of ownership. When we arrived, I could tell students were connected to their wetlands as we had plenty of guides willing to show us the secret paths in and around the wetland that Kim Ondrik (teacher), described as “wild, natural, and magical”.

Students find balance in their backyard wetland

Students find balance in their backyard wetland

This full day workshop was designed to teach students about wetlands by getting outside and mapping one wetland and one riparian area just outside their school. Neil, BCWF Wetlands Education Program Coordinator and Jason, BCWF Wetlands Education Program Assistant led a presentation that taught students what wetlands are, how to classify them, and why they are important. After a quick tutorial on using a handheld GPS unit, students put on their rain boots and headed out to try their new mapping skills. Teachers Kim Ondrik and Murray Sasges gave the students some time to explore the wetland. I, BCWF Wetlands Education Program Intern, enjoyed this time to check out the wetland and speak to students. It was interesting to see the divide between students who ran out and began to play and the others who went off on their own sit spot for some relaxation time. Students told me about all the wildlife they’ve seen in the wetland from owls, eagles, herons, waterfowl, and deer and one student Zack, told me about how one time he was face to face with an owl at this wetland.

In teams, students race around their school to complete gps challenge race

In teams, students race around their school to complete GPS challenges

Teaching to such a large group of students was novel for a Map our Marshes workshop, and the activities were modified to keep them engaged throughout the day. To test their new skills the Wetlands team designed and delivered a fun, “Amazing Race” style challenge. By answering skill-testing questions, teams were given UTM coordinates to a number of GPS-related challenges, such as marking waypoints or creating creative GPS tracks. By the end of the workshop, students were confident in their new skills and knowledge and enjoyed the competitive race.

Students explore Vernon Creek

Students explore Vernon Creek. Teachers learned this area is actually classified as a riparian area rather than a swamp.

Overall, this workshop was beneficial on so many levels. Students learnt hands-on skills and how they could apply them to a number of jobs in a variety of environmental fields. Some deepened their connection to these wetlands, while others may now see them with a new lens. Others liked how we collected GPS tracks of their wetland to add to the BC Wetlands Atlas and saw how mapping is the first step to conservation. Murray Sasges (teacher), already led a wetland clean up and hopes to lead another with his students new found enthusiasm. Finally, we hoped to inspire new conservation initiatives and inspire students to make a difference in their own community to conserve valuable wetlands.

Thank you to the teachers Kim Ondrik & Murray Sasges, Aaron Deans at the Allan Brooks Nature Centre Society for organizing the partnership

This event was made possible with the financial support of Wildlife Habitat Canada, Environment Canada, Government of British Columbia, BCWF, and the Barnet Rifle Club.

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