1,600 Pr. William and Manassas students go outside for lessons in Farm Field Day

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010

The bees and the barnyard animals stole the show last week at an annual field day meant to connect Prince William County area students to agriculture and their natural environment.

"It's fun to get close to nature and the animals and to feel how soft they are," said Gavin Kent, a Glenkirk Elementary School student. "I got bonked on the head by a goat when I was petting the pig."

Gavin, 9, was one of 1,600 fourth-graders from Prince William and Manassas who attended the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District's 21st annual Farm Field Day. The event, which was held over two days, provided students with hands-on activities that taught them about farming, where their food comes, water conservation and protecting the environment.

"Our goal is to educate, get the students outside and get them connected to the environment," said Steve Danziger, chairman of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation Board. He noted that there is always a waiting list to attend the event. "The kids love the animals every year. They can see them and hear them on the computer, but they can't feel them."

During the event Wednesday and Thursday at the Prince William County Fairgrounds, students rotated through seven stations, spending 20 minutes at each with volunteers, officials said. "It's really fun because we got to pet all the animals," said Chenoa Welch, 9, of Glenkirk Elementary. "I learned that the cows have big poop."

In addition to getting an up-close look at cows, sheep and other farm animals, students learned about the importance of trees, bees, soil and crops in Virginia, including corn. They also learned about watersheds and how their choices affect the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

"I liked the bees and learning how they pollinate flowers and fly [up to] two miles" to get nectar, Leesylvania Elementary School student Dallas Gray, 9, said. "I also liked talking about trees because tress are like science, and that's my favorite subject."

Students also learned how much energy it takes to create horsepower. Grasping a rope tied to a crate holding cement blocks, students lined up and worked as a team to drag the blocks across the floor.

"It wasn't that hard," Jennie Dean Elementary School student Meredith Seaberg, 9, said of the activity. "We were really just walking backwards."

The program curriculum is in line with Virginia Standards of Learning and is set by conservation district officials and volunteers who put in more than 1,000 hours of time even before the event, Danziger said.

"I enjoy coming because it gets kids out of the classroom and seeing things they don't normally get to see," Leesylvania teacher Heather Carroll said, noting that some students had before never come in contact with farm animals.

Danziger said there are 150 volunteers helping each day, including farmers who also lend their animals for the event.

"I've been volunteering for several years; I like to promote agriculture so the young people know where their food comes from," said Margaret Covington, who taught students about corn. "I enjoy working with the children, and they seem to enjoy learning about crops."

Students from Brentsville District and Stonewall Jackson high schools also helped, teaching students to recycle during lunch.

"It's fun to interact with the kids," Stonewall senior Sarah Lamb said. "They are smarter than most people give them credit for, and, hopefully, they can pass on what they've learned to their families and friends."

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