FUNKS GROVE — Sam Williams has been to Sugar Grove Nature Center before, but Tuesday was different for the Olympia Middle School sixth-grader.
In addition to learning about birds, plants and biodiversity, the 11-year-old from Minier also helped spread mulch around the center.
“It actually feels like we were helping out here. So it makes me feel good,” she said.
That was part of the goal of the Nature and Science Field Day in which about 150 sixth-graders from the rural Stanford school participated.
“In addition to being able to learn about biodiversity and visit a nature center in their own backyard, … we also want them to feel a sense of ownership through their work,” said Angela Funk, the director of the center, which has many programs for youths.
Lexi Bauman, who teaches language arts at Olympia Middle School, said, “A lot of the kids have come here before, but the goal is to give back and get their hands dirty.”
The field trip was made possible in part through a grant coordinated by the Illinois Conservation Foundation and distributed through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The $1,900 grant paid for substitute teacher pay, transportation costs, materials and food for the trip.
The Olympia field trip marked two milestones for the Biodiversity Field Trip Grant Program.
As of Tuesday's trip, the program has provided more than $1 million for nature-based field trips, and more than 100,000 Illinois students have participated in such trips since the program started in 2001, according to Eric Schenck, ICF executive director.
Bauman said: “One thing Olympia is big about is building team aspects. They're learning how to work together and cooperate. And they're working with different kids in the class.”
Teamwork and cooperation were particularly important as the students hauled large bags of mulch and moved picnic tables and benches.
During the approximately four hours they spent at the center, the students went on guided nature hikes, learned about invasive plants, such as garlic mustard and honeysuckle, and observed birds and animals.
Other activities included presentations on safety around trains and the work of the IDNR's Conservation Police.
“This is an age when we want to talk about careers,” said Funk.
Conservation Police Officer Trent Reeves described his job by saying, “We're the Swiss Army knife of law enforcement.”
In addition to enforcing traffic and drug laws like city police officers do, Conservation Police officers also enforce boating, fishing and hunting regulations.
“One of the things I like about my job is when the season changes, my job changes,” he told the students.
In the bird observation room, nature center staff member Michelle Roy discussed migration and pointed to brightly colored orioles, goldfinches and grosbeaks at feeders outside the windows.
She also talked about the different speeds at which various birds flap their wings and had the children try to flap their own “wings” that fast.
No one came close to the 80 beats a second of the hummingbirds they watched outside the window.
Twelve-year-old Trinity Pfahl of Danvers said her favorite thing was “learning about birds I didn't even know about.”
Bauman said when the students get back to school, they will write “reflection pieces” on what they learned during their field trip.
Each student also was given a white oak tree — the state tree of Illinois — to take home and plant.
Want to see more local news like this?
Our Daily Headlines email is for you! Delivered daily at 7:30 a.m., you'll get the local stories you need to see directly in your inbox.