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Freshwater Festival provides hands-on learning for kids

Chris Parthun leads a Jeopardy-themed game that tested students’ knowledge about wildlife and nature for points to win. (Nick Longworth / Enterprise)1 / 2
Sandra Lichter makes a demonstration to students about a loon’s bone structure. (Nick Longworth / Enterprise)2 / 2

Wednesday, May 7 wasn’t your typical school day for Park Rapids 6th graders. Held at the Camp Wilderness Boy Scout Camp near Emmaville, the 19th annual Freshwater Festival broke students out of their ordinary classrooms for the day in order to teach a hands-on lesson.

The annual festival had students walking around to different exhibits while learning about different topics relating to both nature and science while also taking a hands-on approach.

Beginning at 9:20 a.m. and ending around 2 p.m., Park Rapids was one of five area schools present at the event.

Teachers received schedules ahead of time detailing how their individual classrooms would cycle through five different exhibits out of a possible 10 total during the event. Included during the day also was a lunch break prepared and provided by the Mantrap Valley Conservation Club Auxiliary.

Groups such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Conservation Service among others presented speakers such as John Weber, Sandra Lichter, Brad Witkin, James Owen, Tom Gibson, Nate Sitz, Dan Olson and Chris Parthun who shared their expertise on topics such as dragonflies, loons, fisheries, water-bugs and other topics relating to nature.

According to an official event release, “The goal of the Freshwater Festival is to educate sixth grade students about protection, preservation and conservation of water resources in an atmosphere of fun and learning. Hubbard County has substantial ground and surface water resources. We want to educate children about different aspects of these waters and their relationship to other resources, wetlands, forestry and wildlife. We also want to instill an environmental awareness and a stewardship ethic in students and adults.” Because Hubbard County is so heavily surrounded by elements of nature including lakes and wetlands, the focus remained on teaching students about the impact they have on the environment around them.

“Especially because we live in the lakes area, students are very much around this environment. Because it’s part of their lifestyle, they probably don’t realize the impact they have on it. This event puts hands and feet to the book knowledge when they see it here. It’s still teaching, but it’s very practical; I think it’s a great event,” said Michelle Fritze, a substitute teacher for Park Rapids who attended the event.

“It’s a really great experience for the kids. They get to go out and see many different sites and different educational presentations. All of the kids really enjoy it, and I’ve never really heard any complaints from anybody. You could spend all day here if you wanted to. Every year we try and find something a little different and unique,” said Melissa Koebernick, an administrative assistant who helped organize the event.

“What we leave behind is what our kids and our grandkids will have. I think it’s important for kids to realize the importance of water quality in many things; not just drinking water quality, but for the whole environment and what they can do to help. If we teach them when they are young, they are going to respect it and value it,” Koebernick said.

Many volunteers were also present, saying they believe the event serves a benefit to the local student body as well.

“Somebody needs to help these kids learn about what they’re surrounded by with these lakes and land, and how they might be able to take care of it in the future. It’s our best resource around here, these lakes,” said Dennis O’Connor, a first-time volunteer at the event.

“This is a great event. It brings students in and informs them about wildlife and the natural resources that we have in this area. I did it last year, and the year before, and I will do it until they have to wheel me in with a wheelchair,” said Lynn Goodrich, supervisor of the soil and water conversation district and president-elect of Hubbard County COLA.

Teachers asked about why they participated in the event said they saw omnipresent merit in the lessons taught as well as the way in which students are approached with individualized lessons.

“They have an opportunity to question, to learn and to do hands-on activities regarding our environment, lakes, water, fish and habitats in this area; it’s very important. This is the fifth year I’ve done it and it’s always awesome. The Freshwater Festival gives students a golden opportunity to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and enhance it in a fun, natural setting. Kudos to all the volunteers who make this a possibility every year,” said Carol Sievers, 6th grade social studies, reading and language arts teacher whose class attended the event.

“It’s a day out of the school with great hands-on learning. It’s just another mode of learning, its outdoors, a little more unstructured, and they’re having fun. It’s a lot different from sitting in a desk. They learn a lot from these field trips and will probably remember more from here than sitting listening to a teacher or reading out of a textbook” said Dave Schaum who attended the event as a helping hand to special needs students.

At the end, each student also received a free tree seedling to take home with them as a souvenir and a reminder of the day’s events.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
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