June 3, 2009

Blake Newton, UK extension entomology specialist, shows Madison County students an insect.
Blake Newton, UK extension entomology specialist, shows Madison County students an insect.
Madison County elementary students netted a lesson in the natural environment during a recent daylong environmental field day hosted by the county's office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

Fourth- and fifth-graders and students from a school ecology club participated in several hands-on activities at Lake Reba including owl pellet dissection, exploring for aquatic insects, identification of land insects, global position systems and wildlife education.

"The field day was a way to show them that environmental education is fun, and they can be entertained participating in it and encourage their families and friends to get involved," said Scott Darst, Madison County 4H Youth development agent.

Blake Newton, UK extension entomology specialist, said events like the field day allow young people to get up close to nature and learn that some insects are not as scary as some people think. He brought along hissing cockroaches to reinforce the point.

"We try to get across the idea that even though there are a few insects and spiders that are dangerous to us, the vast majority are not dangerous at all," he said. "That's why we bring along the hissing cockroaches.  They are one of the safest insects in the world."

In addition to the field day, Darst has visited classrooms across the county and taught water quality to students over the past couple of months. He helped the students conduct chemical testing on local bodies Madison County elementary students search for insects in Lake Reba.of water and compare the quality and composition of tap and creek water.

The environmental program and field day were made possible through the 4-H Toyota Water Grant.  Kentucky is one of five states and Madison County is one of seven counties in the state to receive funding from the grant given by the National Toyota Headquarters to National 4-H.

Jann Burks, state 4H Youth development specialist, administers Kentucky's grant and said the grant provides numerous opportunities for recipient counties to explore the water quality in their communities.

"Every county designs a local program that meets their needs and then looks for community partners to help," she said. "Several of them have done water quality testing on lakes and streams in their region."

Vivian Bowles, a fourth grade teacher at Kit Carson Elementary School who leads the school's ecology club, said the field day was the club's culminating event.

"We're so glad 4-H had this opportunity for us," she said.

Kentucky 4-H received 4-H Toyota Water Grant funds for next year.  Burks said she hopes to expand the program into more Kentucky counties.

"Our goal is to expand water education and conservation in Kentucky communities by working from the ground level up," she said. "We want to create county programs where children, youth and adults partner to help clean up their environment through a water program that they've designed."

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