WESTVILLE – Every year, the students in Jim Rogers’ fourth-grade class at Edison Elementary School have enjoyed participating in the Vermilion County Conservation District’s Outdoor School.
This year, however, Rogers became concerned the younger students at his school were missing out on experiencing the great outdoors because they weren’t eligible to attend Outdoor School, which is reserved for fourth- and fifth-graders.
“I was thinking, ‘Let’s have everybody have a touch of Outdoor School,’” he said.
So Rogers devised a plan earlier this spring with Conservation District educator Susan Biggs Warner to bring the whole school to Forest Glen County Preserve, east of Westville.
“I contacted her in March or April,” Rogers recalled. “They’ve never done a whole school before.”
Warner said, “We’ve probably had groups this big before, but we’ve never had a whole school visit for a whole day. It’s unusual to host a whole school.
“We have a lot of stuff to do in a little amount of time,” she added.
The entire Edison student body of more than 200 children from kindergarten to fourth grade spent the day Friday on one big field trip to Forest Glen.
A highlight for kindergartener Caleb Shelato occurred as soon as the school bus rolled into the county preserve. He and several other children spotted a deer.
Caleb also had a couple other favorite parts of the day.
“I liked the trail and the cabin,” he said.
Kindergartener Levi Hardimon said, “I saw some fish and a deer and frogs, and I liked the syrup.”
Four activity areas were set up which the children rotated through: the pioneer cabin, the nature center, a walk along Willow Creek Trail, and a scavenger hunt on the grounds of the Gannett Education Center.
At the pioneer cabin, Warner explained how pioneers cooked over an open fire in a hearth and combed flax with a hatchel.
She told the students she had the kindling to start a fire in the cabin’s hearth that morning but couldn’t light the fire because there was a nest of baby chimney swifts in the chimney.
Warner also allowed each student to try a taste of the maple syrup that is annually collected and cooked at Forest Glen.
“It was good. It was really sweet,” fourth-grader Elijah Thaxton said.
At the nature center, which is home to snakes and a turtle and some taxidermy animal displays, educator Nick Jeurissen dispensed “animal fun facts” to a group of third graders.
The scavenger hunt encouraged the children to find everything on a list, such as mushrooms, pine cones, leaves, a Y-shaped branch and even a spider.
Some of Rogers’ students came to him looking for help locating a couple items on their list.
“We need a fern and a pine cone, but we found a mushroom,” fourth-grader Mya Cross said.
“That’s goldenrod,” Rogers told one student who was holding a sprig of the yellow flowering plant.
“To find a fern, go where it’s cool and damp,” he suggested. “You have to find a pine tree to find a pine cone.”
Fourth-grader Ashanti Conaway found a pine cone and a brown leaf, both of which were on the scavenger hunt list. She and her classmates also found a spider.
“There was a spider over there, but we didn’t want to pick it up,” Ashanti said.
Edison Principal Betsy Porter said she was as excited as the students to go on the field trip to Forest Glen.
“The weather is perfect, and this is a wonderful end-of-the-year celebration that’s educational, too,” she said.