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Harpers Ferry students get marathon lesson in science

U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center offers close-up examination of nature

U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center offers close-up examination of nature

May 22, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Check out this science classroom.

Students from Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) Middle School were at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) Wednesday for a close-up examination of the environment, including how birds are attracted to ponds to feed on insects.

As students leaned over a table near the edge of a pond at the center, swallows swooped over the students in their search for food.

"It doesn't get any better than that," instructor Sandy Burk said.

The students gathered at the center along Shepherd Grade Road north of Shepherdstown were participating in the Jefferson County Science Olympiad, an annual program offered by the center and Jefferson County Schools.

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The Olympiad was started in the early 1980s by a Shepherdstown teacher who believed it was important for Jefferson County Schools students to have hands-on experiences in science education, said Carole Anne Boyer, a sixth-grade teacher at Charles Town (W.Va.) Middle School.

The event has grown into an event that stretches over the most part of a week at the NCTC, a 500-acre facility used to train researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies.

The facility includes museum collections regarding the country's environmental movements, and the grounds are a favorite place to see Jefferson County wildlife, such as nesting bald eagles.

At the Olympiad, students move among stations, where they learn from a master gardener about attracting butterflies, the evolution of trees, bird migration and aquatic life.

At Burk's station, students examined crayfish, dragonfly larvae and other organisms that came from the pond. They learned how the cycle of life works, such as how the dragonfly larvae feed on mosquito larvae and how bluebirds and swallows constantly circle the pond feeding on insects such as midges, a class of very small flies.

Burk said the students were able to examine a rare moment in nature Wednesday because the stage that the dragonfly larvae were in only lasts for a few hours before they shed their skin.

Harpers Ferry Middle School student Mitchelle Mayfield let one of the dragonfly larvae crawl around on her hand for a few moments.

Mitchelle said her experience at Burk's station was "the most exciting stuff" of the day.

"Besides the cow eyeball," Mitchelle said. "That was gross."

Students dissected cow eyeballs at one of the stations.

The Olympiad is open to all of the county's sixth-graders, and this week's installment runs through Friday. About 500 students participated this week, and an estimated 4,000 students have gone through the program since it started, organizers said.

The Olympiad is part of the school district's science curriculum, and the NCTC offers equipment to help run the stations, organizers said.

"This has been the most perfect place," Boyer said.

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